Mirror of the World

The booklet for the special exhibition „Mirror of the World“ can be purchased in printed form at the museum’s ticket office. You can download the brochure in PDF format here.

„Capturing the world‘s most floating material in dry form“

Gustav Pauli on the skill of Anton Melbyes, 1924

Spotlights on Seascapes from three Centuries

The sea has always exerted an enormous attraction on many important artists. For centuries, the sea was considered an expression of longings, the scene of great political events and the screen of artistic creation. In fact, without seafaring, there would have been no cultural transfer across continental borders. Seascapes are more than simple depictions of maritime themes: They are landscape and history paintings, projection surfaces for atmospheres, emotions and human destinies, as well as cultural mediators.

„The face of the sea has fascinated me since childhood,“ said Professor Peter Tamm (1928-2016), founder and benefactor of the International Maritime Museum Hamburg. His decades-long passion for collecting has brought together top-class paintings from all epochs of maritime art history. In the historic exhibition rooms, the museum can only present part of its art collection. For the first time in the history of the museum, a cross-epoch selection of particularly high-quality maritime pieces is being brought together in a special exhibition. The works, some of which have never been exhibited before, are intended to make the diversity of the collection as well as the rich facets of marine painting tangible.

The exhibition begins in the 17th century in theNetherlands the cradle of seascapes. The exhibits convey the interplay of art and world history over three centuries; until the late 19th century, when marine painting loses touch with avant-garde developments, the human being is no longer the focus and the seascapes go their own way as an autonomous genre.

The so-called „Golden Age“

Amsterdam is the richest and most innovative city of the 17th century. Around 1650, more ships sail the world‘s oceans under the Dutch flag than French and English ships combined. Through international trade, with profits of over 300% per shipload, they bring unequalled wealth to the city and the country, leading to the development of a social middle class. As people have more than what they need to survive, they invest their money in art, among other things.

For the first time, painters are no longer dependent on generous patrons as clients, but can freely serve the market. As a matter of course, paintings are offered for sale at markets alongside livestock and furniture. Around 70,000 paintings are created per year – an unparalleled productivity that is still unique today and will go down in art history as the Golden Age. Of great importance is the freedom of religion prevailing in the Netherlands, which leads to a focus on everyday motifs at the expense of Christian themes and declares the common people worthy of being painted. This is no coincidence, since the middle classes make up a large number of potential buyers and they prefer to see themselves and their lives portrayed rather than complex mythological themes that only a few can decipher anyway. Since the Dutch live from the sea like hardly any other people, it is little surprise that the cradle of marine painting is to be found here.

Art of a Naval Power

From the 18th century onwards, the Netherlands had to cede its supremacy on international waters to the British Empire, which expanded at an enormous rate. Great Britain succeeds in establishing itself as a world power on the basis of the beginning of its industrialisation, maritime trade and the acquisition of colonies. Victorious naval wars against Spain, the Netherlands and France make it possible to take the leading role on the oceans.

In the population of Britain, there is a growing awareness of the importance of military successes at sea, and with it the demand for art to showcase them. Since the 15th century, it has been customary in England for foreign artists to come to the country for large commissions; for naval paintings in particular, Dutchmen. These influence the British School greatly, which is why, in addition to military motifs, there are many everyday scenes that are in close tradition with the Dutch seascapes.

Mirror of political upheavals

During the French Revolution (1789), painters have a clear mandate to celebrate the glorious deeds of the Republican Martyrs with their paintings. Under the abolition of the aristocracy, many artists suffer, losing their patrons and clients. They now have to paint what they can sell. Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric, it is precisely the non-political subjects that experience a temporary flourishing, including still lifes and landscapes. With the rise and fall of Napoleon (1769-1821), the demands on artists changed once again. During his reign, they had to depict the „Napoleonic myth“. His abdication in 1814 is followed by a phase of reorientation; the search for new subjects in art. The focus shifts from the one hero to ordinary people Heroic deeds are now found in everyday life. The Paris Salon of 1824 marks a change in the history of French art. The subject matter of the paintings hardly plays a role for the critics any more. The experimental use of painting techniques became much more important. The „how“ consequently plays a greater role than the „what“.

Naval painting flourishes around the middle of the century among artists who explore the possibilities of their medium and develop innovative methods with which to achieve never-before-seen effects. Since 1830, the title of Peintre Officiel de la Marine has been granted. One of the first two holders was Théodore Gudin (1802-1880).

The Blossoming

In the 1820s, a new generation of highly talented painters emerges in Denmark, whose works are strongly influenced by German Romanticism. In addition to national motifs, nature and the everyday life of fishermen are increasingly projected onto the canvas. The depiction of the scenes is often an Idealisation of reality. The artists increasingly set themselves against the strict conventions of the academies and expressed their bourgeois self-confidence. That productive phase in Danish art history, which reaches its peak between 1820-1850, is called the Golden Age of Denmark, in reference to Dutch art history.

It is astonishing that this cultural flourishing phase was possible in a time of economic downturn and political instability. The demand for national art increased again after the abolition of the absolute monarchy in 1849 and especially after the wars over Schleswig and Holstein, as the loss of Southern Jutland to Prussia in 1864 left scars on the national identity of the Danes.

A late Awakening

Although a distinct tradition of marine painting had already developed in other European countries more than 200 years ago, seascapes only found their way into German art history at a late stage. As there was neither a national fleet nor any significant maritime interest before the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, the motifs were not reflected in painting. Only where the seas had a special political or economic connection to society could marine painting develop into an independent genre. Thus the circle of German painters specialising in seascapes in the 19th century was limited to a few names from academic circles in Berlin, Düsseldorf and Dresden. Due to the absence of a navy, other motifs moved into the focus of the artists, who concentrated more on the landscape-painting character of the scenes.

Naval painting experiences a late awakening through the fleet policy of Kaiser Wilhelm II. His so-called world policy and the strong expansion of the navy promote the demand for maritime art, which is essentially characterised by talented autodidacts who are in the Emperor‘s favour. Purposefully, naval painting is used for propaganda aims and is intended to illustrate the increasing size of the battle fleet to the population. Naval paintings have a similar function during the National Socialist era. After the world wars, the military aspect in German naval painting flattened out considerably. A preference for old sailing ships and the rough sea develops; a sometimes nostalgic view of the past.

The most personal Art

  • Edward H. H. Archibald, Dictionary of Sea Painters, Woodbridge 1980.
  • Edmund Béraud (Hg.), Souvenirs du Baron Gudin, peintre de la ma- rine (1820-1870), Paris 1921.
  • Bettina Baumgärtel u.a. (Hg.), Die Düsseldorfer Malerschule und ihre internationale Ausstrahlung 1819–1918 (2 Bde.), Petersberg 2011.
  • Bettina Baumgärtel u.a. (Hg.), Andreas Achenbach. Revolutionär und Malerfürst, Oberhausen 2016.
  • Gerlinde de Beer, Anmerkungen zum Werk von Jan Porcellis. (Gent um 1584 – 1632 Zoeterwoude bei Leiden), in: Liber amicorum Marijke de Kinkelder. Onder red. van Charles Dumas, Jan Kosten, Eric Jan Sluij- ter, Nicolette C. Sluijter-Seijffert, Den Haag 2013, 11–40.
  • Gerlinde de Beer u.a., The Golden Age of Dutch Marine Painting. The Inder Rieden Collection, hg. v. Charles Dumas, Leiden 2019.
  • Denis-Michel Boëll, Les peintres officiels de la Marine, Châteaulin, Paris 2020.
  • Denys Brook-Hart, British 19th Century Marine Painting, Woodbrid- ge 1974.
  • F. B. Cockett, Early Sea Painters 1660-1730, Woodbridge 1995.
  • David Cordingly, Marine Painting in England. 1700-1900, London 1974.
  • David Cordingly, Ships and Seascapes. An Introduction to Maritime Prints, Drawings and Watercolours, London 1997.
  • Martin Faass u.a. (Hg.), Seestücke. Von Caspar David Friedrich bis Emil Nolde, München 2005.
  • Uwe Fleckner u.a. (Hg.), Der Künstler in der Fremde. Migration – Reise – Exil, Berlin [u.a.] 2015.
  • David Freedberg und Jan de Vries (Hg.), Art in History. History in Art Studies in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Culture, Santa Monica 1991.
  • Jenny Gaschke (Hg.), Turmoil and Tranquillity. The Sea through the Eyes of Dutch and Flemish Masters, 1550 – 1700, Greenwich 2008.
  • William Gaunt, Marine Painting, Amsterdam 1975.
  • Regine Gerhardt, Ein „Europäer“ in Dänemark. Anton Melbye und die Kopenhagener Kunstszene, in: Uwe Fleckner u.a. (Hg.), Der Künst- ler in der Fremde. Migration – Reise – Exil, Berlin [u.a.] 2015, 107–129.
  • Regine Gerhardt, Anton Melbye und das Seestück im 19. Jahrhun- dert, Berlin 2023.
  • Jeroen Giltaij (Hg.), Herren der Meere – Meister der Kunst. Das holländische Seebild im 17. Jahrhundert, Rotterdam, Berlin 1996.
  • Thomas Habersatter und Herbert Brendl, Schiff voraus. Marinema- lerei des 14. bis 19. Jahrhunderts, Salzburg 2005.
  • Eleanor Hughes (Hg.), Spreading Canvas, Eighteenth-Century Bri- tish Marine Painting, Yale 2016.
  • Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic. It‘s Rise, Greatness and Fall 1477-1806 (= Oxford History of Early Modern Europe), Oxford 1998.
  • George S. Keyes, Mirror of Empire. Dutch Marine Art of the Seven- teenth Century, Minneapolis u.a. 1990.
  • Liber amicorum Marijke de Kinkelder. Onder red. van Charles Du- mas, Jan Kosten, Eric Jan Sluijter, Nicolette C. Sluijter-Seijffert, Den Haag 2013.
  • Henrik Lungagnini, Anton Melbye, ein dänischer Marinemaler in Hamburg, in: Jahrbuch Altonaer Museum in Hamburg, 10, 1972, 99– 110.
  • Sabine Mertens, Seesturm und Schiffbruch. Eine motivgeschichtli- che Studie (= Schriften des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums), Hamburg 1987.
  • Boye Meyer-Friese, Marinemalerei in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhun- dert (= Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum Bremerhaven), Oldenburg, Mün- chen u.a. 1981.
  • France Nerlich und Bénédicte Savoy, Pariser Lehrjahre. Ein Lexikon zur Ausbildung deutscher Maler in der französischen Hauptstadt, Berlin u.a. 2013.
  • Russalka Nikolov und Gudrun Müller, Kunst mit weitem Horizont. 400 Jahre Marinemalerei, Helsinki 2003.
  • Wolfgang Peiffer, Andreas Achenbach – Seestücke. 1815-1910, Pe- tersberg 2021.
  • Margarita Russell, Visions of the Sea. Hendrick C. Vroom and the Origins of Dutch Marine Painting, Leiden 1983.
  • Martina Sitt und Hubertus Gaßner (Hg.), Segeln, was das Zeug hält. Niederländische Gemälde des Goldenen Zeitalters, München 2010.
  • James Taylor, Marine Painting. Images of Sail, Sea and Shore, Lon- don 1995.
  • Jane Turner (Hg.), The Dictionary of Art, New York 1996.
  • Norbert Wolf, Klassizismus und Romantik (= Reclam Kunst-Epo- chen; Bd. 9), Stuttgart 2004.

Published by

Peter Tamm Sen. Stiftung Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg


Peter Tamm
Jan Tersteegen


Patrick Rivière

 Exhibition Design:

Philip von Klösterlein


Katharina Tersteegen


Ralf Krogmann
Antje Reineward

Facility management:

Heiko Lorenz
Jörg Durst
Frank Maier

Art handling:

Wilhelm Kirchhöfer
Vincent Loraine


Hauke Jörgensen

Online communication:

Damián Morán Dauchez


Jens Meyer-Odewald


Frédéric Lebas

Thanks to:

Thomas Bantle
Dr. Günter Brinkhoff Milena Del Duca
Dr. Axel Grießmer
Karin Hammer
Gerrit Menzel
Esther u. Alexander Sairally

The exhibition was made possible by the generous support of

  • Gert Hinnerk Behlmer
  • Claus G. Budelmann
  • Susanne und Karl Gernandt
  • Sabine Timm-Heikes und Jan-Hendrik Heikes
  • Gebr. Heinemann SE & Co. KG
  • Gerresheim Serviert GmbH & Co. KG
  • Barbara und Ian Karan Stiftung
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Otto
  • Engelke Schümann
  • Giselher Schultz-Berndt
  • Bernhard Schulte GmbH & Co. KG
  • Sea Cloud Cruises
  • M.M.Warburg & CO (AG & Co.)
  • Warburg-Melchior-Olearius-Stiftung
  • Hans-Werner Weisser
  • Wyker Dampfschiffs-Reederei Föhr-Amrum GmbH

as well as supporters who do not wish to be named.