The Dutch at sea

The seventeenth century was a turbulent time for the Netherlands. The Eighty Years' War against the powerful Spanish Empire under King Philip II raged in the country. In 1648, the peace treaty with Spain was signed in Münster, but this peace was short-lived: England, an initial ally in the fight against Spain, turned against the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands after the Peace of Münster. In 1652, four years after the Eighty Years' War came to an end, the Anglo-Dutch wars began. The Dutch Republic was a major trading power, with the VOC and WIC (East India and West India Company, respectively) as major players. England could barely compete, and this resulted in war. The four naval wars that were fought in total showed that the Low Countries could not and would not simply be outmatched as a world power.

The prosperous trade in herbs and spices and the demand for warships took shipbuilding in the water-rich Netherlands to a higher level, and with the invention of the wood saw mill by Cornelis van Uitgeest at the end of the sixteenth century - the patent for this was granted in 1593 - shipbuilding received an enormous boost. The wood brought in from Germany and later from Scandinavia could easily be sawn with the new sawmills and applied on a large scale in the growing branch of Dutch shipbuilding. It is estimated that, in its heyday, the Netherlands had more than 2,000 ships, surpassing any other country. England had no more than 200 and Spain perhaps even fewer. At sea, the Netherlands reigned supreme: that much is clear.

One of the pillars of Dutch wealth in the seventeenth century was its type of ship. A small wooden ship, just 25 metres long, full of men, water and food, that departed with only one goal: to discover new land and trade. It was tragic that more than half of the people on board often did not survive, but those who did stay alive gained knowledge and experience. They became masters in navigation and cartography, discovered other customs and methods and above all learned how a ship should be constructed. In order to prevent people on board from dying at sea and to make trade even more efficient, the type of trading ship was adapted: longer and narrower, with narrower decks and bulkier bellies. Sailing was done with fewer people, but carrying a lot of cargo. It brought wealth to the Republic.

However, the shipbuilders of the Netherlands built by eye, using their years of experience. The ships were mainly regarded as workhorses. Not for decoration, but to transport merchandise until it broke down. The practical approach of the Dutch worked well in the short term, but less so in the long term. Little was written down about building methods and many techniques were transferred to subsequent master builders during construction. As a result, much of the Dutch knowledge is forgotten. In the course of the eighteenth century, the Republic lost its lead to England, where the shipbuilders did keep a very accurate record of how ships were made. Even the beautiful books by Nicolaes Witsen and Cornelis van Yk from the end of the seventeenth century could no longer change this. In the course of the eighteenth century the rich period for the Netherlands largely ended.

Kolderstok's models of Dutch ships from the end of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were made after the written specifications of Witsen and Van Yk, but also after existing replicas, drawings, paintings and museum figures. The Kolderstok models therefore give a good picture of a ship from the seventeenth century that sailed under the Dutch flag. However, it should be borne in mind that no original ships from that same century have ever been preserved. Details can no longer be traced and, for example, the paints and colours used are interpretations of images of which it cannot be said with certainty that they are correct. This does not alter the fact that a Kolderstok model represents a piece of heritage and a rich and turbulent history.