Review Carly Hilts
At The Box, in Plymouth, 14 colourful giants wait to greet visitors to this new museum (at time of writing, its COVID-delayed opening had been rescheduled to 29 September). Depicting monarchs, mythological beings, and more abstract concepts, these figureheads once graced the bows of 19th-century Royal Navy warships, providing a physical representation of the ships’ names.
The figures have been recently restored by Orbis Conservation (see CA 357), a Greenwich-based team of experts who also cleaned and consolidated Liverpool’s Neolithic Calder Stones (CA 347), and this book has been written to accompany the naval artworks’ installation in Plymouth.
David Pulvertaft’s pages contain plentiful contextual information, exploring the history of warship figureheads, their themes, and the artists who created them. We also learn more about how the 14 Box examples were restored, and about surprising discoveries that were made during their conservation (for example, regarding their colour schemes).
Each of the 14 is described in detail, considering the meaning of their imagery, where their host vessels saw action, and their subsequent movements. As might be expected for such a visual subject, this is also a pleasingly well-illustrated publication.