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Peter Pett and the 'Sovereign of the Seas'

Photo credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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Built by Pett at Woolwich in 1637, to the designs of his father, the ‘Sovereign of the Seas’ was believed to be the most powerful ship of her day and was the prototype for all 100-gun English first-rates which followed. The ornately carved stern and the guns are carefully delineated, detailing the iconographic scheme for the 'Sovereign's' decorations, which combined British history, classical references and heraldic symbolism. The central figure of the upper stern is a winged Victory. Around the arms of Victory is a crown signifying riches and a laurel chaplet signifying honour. 'SOLI DEO GLORIAM' (The glory only to God) can be seen above on the taffrail, which has figures of the lion and unicorn at either end. Victory's right hand points to the crowned figure of Jason holding an oar and the Golden Fleece; her left hand points to Hercules with a club. Between these figures at Victory's feet are Neptune on a sea-horse and Aeolus, god of the winds, on an eagle. The central figure further down may be Mercury and below that are the royal arms and the three feathers of the Prince of Wales. At the turn of the quarters, on each side, are the royal heraldic devices of the rose and thistle; the crowned monograms 'CR' and 'HM' and a frieze of heraldic beasts – the English lion, Scottish unicorn, Welsh or Tudor dragon and the Tudor greyhound.

National Maritime Museum





oil on canvas


H 139.5 x W 156 cm

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Work type



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National Maritime Museum

Romney Road, Greenwich, London, Greater London SE10 9NF England

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