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Gondola prow

Gondola prow

  • Place of origin:

    Venice (made)

  • Date:

    1600-1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel, wrought, pierced and engraved

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 2a, case WALL , shelf OUTSIDE WALL OF MIRRORED CABINET

This is a rare surviving example of a seventeenth-century gondola iron from Venice. Gondolas are shallow-bottomed boats that navigate the shallow, calm Venetian canals. Their prows and sterns were not designed to withstand heavy seas, and so could be elaborate and decorative displays of the blacksmith's art. They were also kept highly polished. The English diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) visited Venice in 1645 and described gondolas as 'very long and narrow, having necks and tailes of steele, somewhat spreading at the beake like a fishes taile, and kept so exceedingly polish'd as gives a wonderfull lustre'. This example recalls the prow iron of an ambassadorial gondola sketched by the Venetian artist Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) (the drawing is in the Museo Correr, Venice). Although a characteristically Venetian vessel, gondolas were not unknown on the Thames in the late seventeenth century. Two gondolas are depicted close to the King's barge in the engraving by Dirk Stoop of the procession of boats that accompanied Charles II and his new bride Catherine of Braganza, as they travelled from Hampton Court to the Palace of Whitehall in August 1662. Later that year, the Venetian diplomat Francesco Giavarrina presented Charles with a pair of gondolas, and he recorded how the king was impressed by the grace and lightness of the boats, and with the skill of the gondoliers.

Physical description

Gondola prow of engraved steel, to which is attached three branches ending with three, flat foliate terminals, the prow terminating at the top with an elaborate scroll of pierced and engraved foliate design which includes figures and birds, and which is supported by a triton.

Place of Origin

Venice (made)


1600-1700 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Steel, wrought, pierced and engraved


Height: 1135 mm approximate, Width: 1020 mm approximate, Depth: 45 mm approximate

Descriptive line

Gondola prow, engraved steel, Venice, 17th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Campbell, Marian. Decorative Ironwork. London: V&A Publications, 1997. ISBN: 1851771964
Gardner, John Starkie. Ironwork. Part 2: Continental ironwork of the renaissance and later periods. London, 1896.
Rubin de Cervin, G. B. The Evolution of the Venetian Gondola. The Mariners Mirror. 42.3 (August 1956), pp. 201-18
Evelyn, John. Diary Now first printed in full from the manuscripts belonging to Mr. John Evelyn, ed. by E. S. de Beer. 6 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.
Doran, Susan, ed., with Robert J. Blyth. Royal River. Power, Pageantry & the Thames. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 27 April - 9 September 2012. London: Scala 2012. ISBN 9781857597004
Pedrini, Augusto. Il ferro battuto, sbalzato e cesellato nell' arte italiana dal secolo undicesimo al secolo diciottesimo. Milan: Hoepli, 1929




Forging (metal forming); Engraving (incising); Piercing

Subjects depicted



Ironwork; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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