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The Wreck of Vrouw Maria

An oil painting representing a shipwreck late in the 17th century. The National Board of Antiquities in Finland.


In Finland's territorial waters, there are more than thousand wrecks from different eras. One of these is of great interest: it is a wreck of a Snow-ship in the archipelago in the most south-western parts of the country. At the depth of over 40 meters, the wreck appears well preserved. By the help of historical documents and maritime archaeological research, we now know the wreck is that of a Dutch sailing ship called Vrouw Maria.

Vrouw Maria was a two-masted merchant vessel on her way from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg in the autumn of the year 1771. On a stormy night in the outer archipelago of Nauvo, Vrouw Maria suffered shipwreck and, a few days later, sank. According to the entries of the Sound customs house in Denmark, she was with a cargo of sugar, dyestuff, zinc, cloths, and single items whose customs fee seems was unusually high. Vrouw Maria has a reputation of a treasure ship because her cargo consisted of art treasures bought by Russian aristocrats and Catherine the Great. Among the works of art were for example Dutch paintings from the 17th century. A part of the cargo was salvaged soon after the shipwreck, but the majority of it went down with the ship.

The Baltic Sea has been a central merchant route between the East and the West for centuries and the sea has offered a way for cultural influences to spread from one country to another. The navigation and trade system in Europe was quite uniform at the end of the 18th century; the routes for transporting goods, money, and know-how had established in the course of time. In this network of merchant routes, there were several centres, and the Netherlands and especially Amsterdam were among the most essential ones. Vrouw Maria was a part of the European merchant shipping of the end of the 18th century. The wreck offers an unspoiled and concrete possibility for the people of the 21st century to experience the everyday reality that prevailed in our parts of the world for more than two hundred years ago.

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