Jan Saenredam’s whale


Still reading Moby Dick at a leisurely pace. After finishing Melville’s chapters on the representations of whales I thought I’d see if the pictures he most prefers are online anywhere. A vain search, as it turns out, but I did discover this splendid depiction, Stranded Sperm Whale, by Dutch artist Jan Saenredam (1565–1607).

On 19 December 1601, a sperm whale washed up near Beverwijk. Crowds of people came to see the sight. Among them Jan Saenredam, who made this print. He has depicted himself drawing on the left.

The description continues at the Rijksmuseum site from which this copy originates. Mr Peacay of BibliOdyssey has a very large copy on his Flickr pages which shows more of the fine detail. Melville is highly critical of poor depictions of whales but I suspect he would have liked this one. As well as the local colour and allegorical border elements, Saenredam faithfully renders his dead whale, even leaving space for the drooping scape of cetacean penis. In a similar, if more mundane manner, there’s this engraving by Jacob Matham.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Whale again
Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick

4 thoughts on “Jan Saenredam’s whale”

  1. Is this the first incident of this illustration? I have an etching which may be from a later period, with largely similar details, which was used in the Time-Life Books series “The Seafarers”. In doing the research I found later several variations of the same scene: composition and details almost identical, with variations for period styles.
    In the version I have more activity is shown in detail (e.g. there are men taking the measure of the wale’s penis) and the composition is even more horizontal.

  2. Hi David. There are several engravings of stranded whales by different artists. Wikimedia Commons has one I linked to above by Jacob Matham which sounds like it might be your illustration. In any case it also features a man measuring the whale’s prodigious organ.

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