During his visit to the Netherlands in 1697, Peter the Great and five of his dignitaries served apprenticeship with the shipwright and painter Adam Silo. The Czar didn’t set store by l’art pour l’art; art had to be in the service of science and in that spirit, he tried ‘to understand Shipbuilding’s basic elements’ by draughtsmanship. Adam Silo attached more importance to the selling of his ship models and paintings than in giving instructions. As the Czar refused to by any of his models or paintings, the painter fulminated that he would never allow him to buy any paintings at any time. He eventually refused an appointment of official shipwright for the Russian court. The Czar in return, instructed his agents to buy any available work by the artist from the market. In this way several of his paintings were brought into Russia, where they still can be found in the collections of the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, and Montplaisir, Petrodvorets.
The prosaic depiction of maritime business in the present gouache must have pleased the Russian Czar. Silo’s career coincided with the heyday of whaling. In the front right is a bootschip. Due to its work deck of substantial width and it’s lower stern the ship was most suitable for whaling. In the distance a departing East Indiaman is depicted and on the horizon, a merchant buss. Between sails a samoureus can also be seen. This flat and shallow type of ship transported timber along the Rhine. It’s likely that Silo did his observation near the dockyards where he served as supervisor.
A comparable gouache is on permanent display in the Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam.