Merchant ship Vrouw Maria by Eero Ehanti on Tuesday 12.1 at 6pm

Dear friend of Arkadia, You are most warmly welcome to listen to Eero Ehanti (art historian, conservator and researcher at the National Board of Antiquities) present the truly extraordinary story of merchant ship Vrouw Maria on Tuesday 12.1 at 6pm. He will also, tentatively, endeavour to answer the following questions: Should the story be completed by raising the wreck and placing it in a museum? What would be achieved by doing so? How could this be done? But then also: Should she be raised in the first place? Could she be raised? The talk will be in English but questions will be answered in Finnish and Swedish, and quite possibly in other languages too. It’s an absolutely fascinating presentation. Join us! Warm regards, Ian – Entrance is free and green tea will be served. A donation of €2 (or more!) is suggested and would be welcome. – IMPORTANT: Quite exceptionally the bookshop will be closed Friday 8.1 , Saturday 9.1 as well as Friday 15.1 and Saturday 16.1. I’m very sorry. Stories of Vrouw Maria by Eero Ehanti In December 1771 Russian Empress Catherine the Great lamented in a letter to Voltaire that some paintings she had just bought from Amsterdam were lost at sea. These were valuable 17th century Dutch paintings originating from the famous art-collection of Gerrit Braamcamp. The posthumous auction of Braamcamp’s collection had taken place in July 1771. It was a big occasion in European art-scene, as the collection was of highest quality and very well known. Thus Catherine, always seeking to enlarge her art collection, had asked her ambassador to The Hague, Prince Dmitri Gallitzin, to commission local art dealers to buy the most outstanding works on her account. So he did, and two of the most valuable paintings, those by Gerrit Dou and Paulus Potter, along with several others were hammered to Catherine. The paintings were then loaded together with a cargo of typical trade articles in a merchant ship called Vrouw Maria for shipment to St. Petersburg. It must have seemed like a safe choice, as Vrouw Maria with her captain Reynold Lourens had taken the same route previously and visited other European ports as well. But as it happened, Vrouw Maria lost course in stormy weather and hit rocks off the coast of Finland. The vessel remained afloat several days, giving the crew time to salvage parts of the cargo, but eventually she went down, taking the Empresses paintings and vast majority of the rest of the cargo with her. Vivid diplomatic correspondence between Russian and Swedish authorities followed and Catherine too was writing about the loss to her European circles. Salvage plans and restoration preparations were made should those paintings be recovered. But winter came in between and the location of the wreck was lost. In another letter to Voltaire Catherine accepted the loss of the paintings: “well, there goes 60 000 écus… what can I do…” The paintings and the whole story of Catherine’s art-affairs is but one thread of Vrouw Maria’s story, which ties together some typical phenomena of 17th and 18th century Europe. This was a remarkable era in the Netherlands, a highlight in many senses in European history. In Russia too times were changing as the process of westernization initiated by Peter the Great was continuing and reaching a high point in the era of Catherine the Great. Although Vrouw Maria sailed in the latter phase of the greatest Dutch glory, the ship and the cargo reflect the Dutch industry and the prosperity evolved in the Netherlands within the preceding century. The vessel itself is an example of Dutch shipbuilding, one of the cornerstones of their economy. Tobacco products, coffee and dyestuffs in the cargo remind of the Dutch colonial trade, the large amount of sugar of the refinement-industry and textiles of the great cloth-making expertise they mastered. Items such as lenses and books give a hint of the more scholarly aspects the Dutch society had and as proof of the artistic creativity and advanced art-trade there are the paintings. Despite the dominion of the Baltic trade had in the age of Vrouw Maria shifted to the British, the demand of such Dutch products in Russia had not disappeared. Love of all things Dutch goes back to the travels of Peter the Great and Catherine II willingly followed the predecessor she most appreciated. Thus she and the nobility within her example shipped luxury items from Amsterdam, Dutch paintings of the Golden Age being obvious collectibles. For Catherine’s part the interest towards paintings was motivated not so much on love of art but merely political ambitions. She knew that in order to rank as a major player in the international politics, her court and capital had to resemble and outdo the European rivals. Having a noteworthy art collection was vital and Catherine acted determinedly to achieve that. Through extensive correspondence she gathered a group of very influential European intellectuals and artists, such as Voltaire, Dennis Diderot, Friedrich Melchior Grimm, Etienne Falconet and the likes to promote her cause in Europe and to arrange art-affairs. With their help she was able to acquire important paintings and whole collections from Germany, France and elsewhere, not so much for the sake of the works of art themselves, which were really top-ranking in terms of quality and price, but to achieve “peaceful victories” over Fredrick the Great of Prussia and others. The unfortunate Braamcamp affair is a part of this wider story of Catherine’s art collection, which eventually included some 4000 paintings. This remarkable achievement can today be easily appreciated in the halls and catalogues of the State Hermitage museum. Today the wreck of Vrouw Maria, found after thorough archival research in 1999 by Rauno Koivusaari in the territorial waters of Finland, is almost complete and indeed very well preserved with artifacts, including whatever is left of the paintings, still there in the hold. Plentiful archival sources have been studied by Dr. Christian Ahsltröm and others and archaeological documentation has largely been done by the Maritime Archaeology Unit of the National Board of Antiquities. The environment too has been researched extensively and found out to be favorable for preservation of such a wreck.