Featured image: The Ship London on her first vioadge (1657), probably acquired for the Royal Library during the reign of William IV, now owned by the Royal Collections Trust.
Much of a ship’s hull was not painted at all but varnished, leaving a natural wood colour that gradually yellowed over time. The lower wale and adjacent strakes were painted black, but the areas above the upper wale were either black or blue. During the earlier parts of the 17th Century, Charles I had given elaborate decoration to even the smallest ships, with some managing to retain this well into the Commonwealth period, despite the state’s initial disapproval of excessive show. This disapproval, however, was relaxed from about 1655, when Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate resumed the practice of gilding warships.
Most attention was given to decoration of the bow and stern, with the stern usually being the only part of the decoration finished with real gilt. Other areas were simply painted with yellow ochre to look like gilt. Gunports were decorated with wreaths and the beak and quarterdeck bulkheads were often adorned with full length figures in classical or martial garb.