The artist, Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, was born in Haarlem in 1562 or 1563. Initially he earned his living as a painter of Delftware. Following this, he travelled extensively in Spain, Italy, France and Poland. In Italy, he became acquainted with the painter Paulus Bril and obtained work from Cardinal Ferdinand de’ Medici. On his final return to Haarlem, he developed his career as a marine painter. In the 1590s, he was commissioned to design a series of ten tapestries for the English Lord Admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham (Earl of Nottingham from 1596), to commemorate his victory over the Spanish Armada. From 1650 these hung in the House of Lords in Westminster and were destroyed in the fire of 1834. Although they are recorded in engravings, made by John Pine, in 1739.
Vroom pioneered marine painting as a specialist form as the Dutch rose to become a leading maritime power. He worked widely in Europe and his importance was internationally recognized. He is regarded as the father of marine painting and he pioneered the painting of naval scenes and battles in a new style, showing careful attention to naval detail and rigging. Vroom died in Haarlem in 1640. He is generally hailed to be the first ‘Dutch’ marine artist.
In the foreground, there are two sea monsters in the dark green waves. The dangers of the passage are represented by the monster. As such the subject matter appears to repeat the moralist belief, perpetuated in contemporary emblem literature, of the occasional necessity to sacrifice all one’s riches in order to save one’s life. The inclusion of the monster’s points to the implicit allegory of the ship as a vessel bearing mankind and the human soul across the perilous seas of life.
There are also poets like William Shakespeare who make frequent and complex use of mentions of the sea and things associated with it. The following, From Ariel’s Song in Act I, Scene ii of The Tempest, is felt to be “wonderfully evocative”, indicating a “profound transformation”:
Full fathom five thy father lies:
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.