The Album De Colbert: The Image of Shipbuilding

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M Corradi


The Album de Colbert compiled by an anonymous author in the second half of the seventeenth century is among the most important illustrated testimonies of the art of shipbuilding. Probably commissioned by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance and Minister of the Navy of the kingdom of France, the Album was composed to make Louis XIV understand the complexity of shipbuilding. It was also made to support the creation of a navy with the ambition of being competitive with the Royal Navy and with the intent of modernising and expanding the French shipbuilding industry. The fifty plates that make up this illustrated treatise unravel the story of the construction of a first-rank 80-gun line vessel, from the laying of the keel to the launch. It is a unique document that has no contemporaries or precursors because it is not a didactic collection of boats, like the previous treaties that had a completely different methodological approach, more technical-descriptive than illustrative, but it wants to go beyond the scientific treatise. Its purpose was instead to measure itself with representation, showing through the strength of drawing and images the peculiar aspects of the reality of shipbuilding, using iconography as a means of transmitting knowledge related to the world of shipyards and shipbuilding in the 17th century.

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