Battles at sea: 12 artworks that pack a punch

Battles at sea: 12 artworks that pack a punch

Battles at sea: 12 artworks that pack a punch

Nobody delights in war except warmongers. War is synonymous with death. It is horrifyingly ugly. Samuel Butler, the 17th-century Engish satirical poet, called it “the artificial plague of man”. Oddly enough, however, there is something beautiful about battles at sea, especially those involving frigates and other sailing ships built for warfare. The following works of art are some of the best I have seen on the subject. They depict actual battles that took place and are all notable for their visual and emotional impact.

Battle of Patras, 1772 (1778)
Jacob Philipp Hackert (German, 1737–1807)
Peterhof Museum, Russia, via Wikimedia Commons

Brig “Mercury” Attacked by Two Turkish Ships (1892)
Ivan Aivazovsky (Russian, 1817–1900)
Wikimedia Commons

A Naval Encounter between Dutch and Spanish Warships (c. 1618/1620)
Cornelis Verbeeck (Dutch, 1590/1591–1637)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The Battle of Trafalgar (c. 1841)
John Christian Schetky (British, 1778–1874)
Yale Center for British Art

Battle of the Combined Venetian and Dutch Fleets against the Turks in the Bay of Foya, 1649 (1656)
Abraham Beerstraaten (Dutch, 1643–1670s)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Zeeslag (naval battle) (1617–1660)
Matthieu van Plattenberg (Flemish, 1607–1660)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Naval Battle of Dannoura in the Reign of Antoku, the 80th Emperor (1880)
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japanese, 1839–1892)
Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Japanese Fleet Sinks Chinese Warships in the Battle of the Yellow Sea (1894)
Kobayashi Kiyochika (Japanese, 1847–1915)
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Slag bij Terheide (Battle of Terheide), 10 August 1653 (1653–1666)
Jan Abrahamsz Beerstraaten (Dutch, 1622–1666)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Gevecht tijdens de zeeslag bij Kijkduin (Encounter during the Battle of Kijkduin) (c. 1675)
Willem van de Velde (II) (Dutch, 1633–1707)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Battle of Gibraltar in 1607 (c. 1621)
Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen (Dutch, c. 1576–1633)
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Combat Naval En Vue Des Îles De Loz, 7 Février 1813 (Naval Battle for the Islands of Loz, 7 February 1813) (1st Quarter 19th century)
Louis-Philippe Crépin (French, 1772–1851)
WikiArt: Visual Art Encyclopedia

~ Barista Uno

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Seafarers on the ‘frozen sea’ of maritime Manila

Seafarers on the ‘frozen sea’ of maritime Manila

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” wrote Franz Kafka, the German-language Bohemian novelist. I don’t know if ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’, an e-book which I published in 2018, is sharp enough to cut through the figurative sea. That sea is frozen hard in the hearts and minds of many local folks. How can the icy sea be broken when manning agents who exploit cadets and steal from the remittances of seafarers see nothing wrong with doing so?

At any rate, I think ‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’ is a pretty strong brew. By zooming in on  the plight of Filipino seafarers and the culture that contributes to their exploitation, I was able to get some things off my chest. For those who have not read the book, I’d like to share a few passages which reflect the overall flavour of this slim volume.

When I look at all the players, I don’t see a bustling market. I see a mega aquarium populated by a multitude of fishes and other water creatures swirling round and round — the big ones preying on the smaller ones and occasionally on each other. In this enclosed space, to feed oneself is the main point. Ethical considerations are like underwater bubbles that are gone as quickly as they appear.

(from CHAPTER 1 ‘The Great Money Chase’)

Those who die whilst eking out a living at sea might receive a mention in the newpapers. But they are all too quickly forgotten. In this part of the planet, seamen are a dime a dozen. What is one more death in their ranks?

(from CHAPTER 3: ‘Seamen in the Park’)

Seamen are the usual casualties in Manila’s money marathon. They lie at the bottom of the maritime food chain, preyed upon by motley characters — thieving lawyers, greedy manning agents, slimy fixers, dishonest medical clinics and mendicant relatives. So much for ILO Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, the so-called “bill of rights” for mariners. A greater part of the exploitation of  seamen takes place on land, not on board ships.

(from CHAPTER 7 ‘Culture of Thievery’)

…folks in the local manning and training sectors refer to cadets working as unpaid flunkeys in crewing agencies as “utility”. They don’t say “utility men (or women)” or “cadet trainees” — which would at least indicate that they are dealing with humans and not robots. In many cases, the flunkeys are not even called by their first or family names. One secretary I knew would just holler “utility!” and a cadet would rush to her desk and do her bidding.

(from CHAPTER 10 ‘Language as Mirror’)

How can seamen have self-confidence and assert their rights if they are not given due respect on shore by those who love to lick the boots of foreigners?

(from CHAPTER 15 ‘Foreigners and the Natives’)

…the fixation with manning has also diverted the nation’s energies away from fleet development, marine manufacturing and other areas long neglected. Worse, it has led to a distortion of social values. It has engendered, particularly in Manila, a kind of mind–shrinking parochialism and a culture in which seamen are treated as commodities.

(from CHAPTER 21 ‘Slivers of Light’)

‘Close Encounters in Maritime Manila’ is available at a 50% discount.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy.

~ Barista Uno

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Tribute to seashells: Three verses, one music video

Tribute to seashells: Three verses, one music video

Like countless people around the world, I am fascinated no end by seashells. Just looking at them is a source of great pleasure. It can even be therapeutic. Someday, I might write a poem on the subject. In the meantime, let me share the following three verses and a haunting song about seashells.

I have seen
A curious child, who dwelt upon a tract
Of inland ground, applying to his ear
The convolutions of a smooth-lipped shell;
To which, in silence hushed, his very soul
Listened intensely; and his countenance soon
Brightened with joy; for from within were heard
Murmurings, whereby the monitor expressed
Mysterious union with its native sea.

~ William Wordsworth (1770 –1850) , from ‘The Excursion’

But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the sun’s palace porch, where when unyoked
His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave:
Shake one and it awakens, then apply
Its polished lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.

~ Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864), from ‘Gebir’

The hollow sea-shell, which for years hath stood
On dusty shelves, when held against the ear
Proclaims its stormy parents; and we hear
The faint far murmur of the breaking flood.
We hear the sea. The sea? It is the blood 5
In our own veins, impetuous and near,
And pulses keeping pace with hope and fear
And with our feeling’s every shifting mood.
Lo, in my heart I hear, as in a shell,
The murmur of a world beyond the grave, 10
Distinct, distinct, though faint and far it be.
Thou fool; this echo is a cheat as well,—
The hum of earthly instincts; and we crave
A world unreal as the shell-heard sea.

~ Eugene Lee-Hamilton (1845–1907) , ‘Sea-Shell Murmurs’


You may also like this article: ‘Seeing the grandeur of cathedrals in seashells’

~ Barista Uno

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A deathless myth: Mermaids in poetry and art

A deathless myth: Mermaids in poetry and art

What legendary creature could be more popular than the mermaid? Since the days of silent film, this mythical being with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish has been featured in more than 60 movies. She has graced countless children’s books. Her image greets coffee drinkers as they order cappuccino at a Starbucks counter and drink from the cup with the twin-tailed mermaid logo. Yet, these fascinating creatures have a darker side, which is wonderfully described in an Encyclopedia Britannica article:

“Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, England.”

No matter. The world will continue to be enamoured of mermaids. The following are three poems and some artworks that show the signficant impact of these fabled creatures on the imagination of poets and artists.

The Mermaid

by Alfred Lord Tennyson (British, 1809–1892)


Who would be
A mermaid fair,
Singing alone,
Combing her hair
Under the sea,
In a golden curl
With a comb of pearl,
On a throne?


I would be a mermaid fair;
I would sing to myself the whole of the day;
With a comb of pearl I would comb my hair;
And still as I comb’d I would sing and say,
‘Who is it loves me? who loves not me?’
I would comb my hair till my ringlets would fall
Low adown, low adown,
From under my starry sea-bud crown
Low adown and around,
And I should look like a fountain of gold
Springing alone
With a shrill inner sound
Over the throne
In the midst of the hall;
Till that great sea-snake under the sea
From his coiled sleeps in the central deeps
Would slowly trail himself sevenfold
Round the hall where I sate, and look in at the gate
With his large calm eyes for the love of me.

Click to read the rest of the poem

But at night I would wander away, away,
I would fling on each side my low-flowing locks,
And lightly vault from the throne and play
With the mermen in and out of the rocks;
We would run to and fro, and hide and seek,
On the broad sea-wolds in the crimson shells,
Whose silvery spikes are nighest the sea.

But if any came near I would call and shriek,
And adown the steep like a wave I would leap
From the diamond-ledges that jut from the dells;
For I would not be kiss’d by all who would list
Of the bold merry mermen under the sea.

They would sue me, and woo me, and flatter me,
In the purple twilights under the sea;
But the king of them all would carry me,
Woo me, and win me, and marry me,
In the branching jaspers under the sea.

Then all the dry-pied things that be
In the hueless mosses under the sea
Would curl round my silver feet silently,
All looking up for the love of me.

And if I should carol aloud, from aloft
All things that are forked, and horned, and soft
Would lean out from the hollow sphere of the sea,
All looking down for the love of me.

A Mermaid, 1900
John William Waterhouse (English, 1849–1917)
Little mermaid princess
Illustration from Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Flower Maiden and Other Stories’ (1922)

The Mermaid

by William Butler Yeats (Irish, 1865–1939)

A mermaid found a swimming lad
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.

‘A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid’ (1926)’

Mermaids in the waves, not dated
Louise Anne Saint (French, 1875–1931)
Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
The Mermaid, 1910
Howard Pyle (American, 1853–1911)
Courtesy of Wimedia Commons

The Mermaid

by Anne Bannerman (Scottish, 1765–1829)

Blow on, ye death fraught whirlwinds! blow,
Around the rocks, and rifted caves;
Ye demons of the gulf below!
I hear you, in the troubled waves.
High on this cliff, which darkness shrouds
In night’s impenetrable clouds,
My solitary watch I keep,
And listen, while the turbid deep
Groans to the raging tempests, as they roll
Their desolating force, to thunder at the pole.

Eternal world of waters, hail!
Within thy caves my Lover lies;
And day and night alike shall fail
Ere slumber lock my streaming eyes.
Along this wild untrodden coast,
Heap’d by the gelid’ hand of frost;
Thro’ this unbounded waste of seas,
Where never sigh’d the vernal breeze;
Mine was the choice, in this terrific form,
To brave the icy surge, to shiver in the storm

Click to read the rest of the poem
Yes! I am chang’d – My heart, my soul,
Retain no more their former glow.
Hence, ere the black’ning tempests roll,
I watch the bark, in murmurs low,
(While darker low’rs the thick’ning’ gloom)
To lure the sailor to his doom;
Soft from some pile of frozen snow
I pour the syren-song of woe;
Like the sad mariner’s expiring cry,
As, faint and worn with toil, he lays him down to die.

Then, while the dark and angry deep
Hangs his huge billows high in air ;
And the wild wind with awful sweep,
Howls in each fitful swell – beware!
Firm on the rent and crashing mast,
I lend new fury to the blast;
I mark each hardy cheek grow pale,
And the proud sons of courage fail;
Till the torn vessel drinks the surging waves,
Yawns the disparted main, and opes its shelving graves.

When Vengeance bears along the wave
The spell, which heav’n and earth appals;
Alone, by night, in darksome cave,
On me the gifted wizard calls.
Above the ocean’s boiling flood
Thro’ vapour glares the moon in blood:
Low sounds along the waters die,
And shrieks of anguish fill the’ sky;
Convulsive powers the solid rocks divide,
While, o’er the heaving surge, the embodied spirits glide.

Thrice welcome to my weary sight,
Avenging ministers of Wrath!
Ye heard, amid the realms of night,
The spell that wakes the sleep of death.
Where Hecla’s flames the snows dissolve,
Or storms, the polar skies involve;
Where, o’er the tempest-beaten wreck,
The raging winds and billows break;
On the sad earth, and in the stormy sea,
All, all shall shudd’ring own your potent agency.

To aid your toils, to scatter death,
Swift, as the sheeted lightning’s force,
When the keen north-wind’s freezing breath
Spreads desolation in its course,
My soul within this icy sea,
Fulfils her fearful destiny.
Thro’ Time’s long ages I shall wait
To lead the victims to their fate;
With callous heart, to hidden rocks decoy,
And lure, in seraph-strains, unpitying, to destroy.

The Mermaid or Lady from the sea, 1896
Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863–1944)
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Mermaid, early 19th century
Tadayoshi (Japanese, 19th century)
Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
In the end, we must regard mermaids as fortunate beings. They gambol by the sea and frolick in the sun, free from the countless wordly cares that bedevil humans. They go about without hankering for anything except love. They also exercise power, whether for good or for bad, unlike many women in today’s world who continue to be oppressed and subjugated by men.
The Sea Maidens, 1885/1886
Evelyn De Morgan (English, 1855–1919)
Courtesy of Google Arts and Culture
Siren (Italian bronze sculpture), c. 1571–90
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

~ Barista Uno

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Seafarer rights issues and ‘The Sound of Silence’

Seafarer rights issues and ‘The Sound of Silence’

Marine Café Blog recently detailed how Filipino seafarers were being short-changed big time on their remittances. Yet, despite the scale of the problem, the press has not deigned to take up the issue. Nor have I heard the seafarer unions and the bleeding-heart maritime NGOs openly condemn the cheating. The same was true when I first wrote in 2013 about Manila’s maritime flunkeys — i.e., cadets who work as unpaid labour for manning agencies and unions. Why the silence?

I am reminded of ‘The Sound of Silence’ by the American musical duo Simon & Garfunkel. Released in 1965, the iconic song dwells on the theme of apathy and alienation. The third verse especially rings true in light of all the talking about seafarers’ rights and the never-ending violations of those rights:

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

In spite of it all, I continue to write candidly about seafarer issues. I have stopped feeling like I am Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to perpetually roll a boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it fall down again. Nowadays I hear myself uttering the first lines lines of the Simon & Garfunkel song:

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

So much for self-indulgent ruminations. Just watch and listen to Simon & Garfunkel perform in 1981 ‘The Sound of Silence’ at New York City”s Central Park:

~ Barista Uno

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