Ever since the Mediterranean had been a ‘Roman lake’ Italy had been well-placed to profit from the trade carried out in that most important part of ancient Europe. This only increased as the West gradually became aware of the Middle East and beyond, partly thanks to the crusades from the 11th century. Fortunes were made, and maritime republics like Venice, Genoa and Pisa became far more powerful than their small size would have suggested, but things began to unravel in the 15th century. By the 16th century Italy was being fought over by France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, leading to Spanish dominance of the peninsular, but many Italian states like Venice and the Papal States remained independent, and of course with such a long coastline Italian sailors were always kept busy, whether by trade or war.
As with Set 1 in this mini series on Italian Sailors, many of the figures in this set are focused on the galley, which reached the height of its importance in the 16th century before rapidly falling from favour. The first four poses pictured above are galley rowers. All have arms close together and hands outstretched, so are presumably pushing or pulling at an oar. Each also has one foot on a step, and two are dressed as Ottoman slaves and are in chains, so clearly rowers. While there are several methods of rowing galleys, none call for the hands to be together like this. The problem of course is that any space between the arms is filled with unwanted plastic, so RedBox have chosen to have the arms as close together as possible, but the natural stance would be to have the arms stretch out directly in front of the shoulder, parallel with each other and with hands apart. So these arm positions are a compromise. The step is a nice touch as galleys usually had such a plank to help the rowers get good purchase while rowing, although it was a good deal higher than the ones modelled here. So not ideal poses, but clearly necessary for any galley model.
The fifth figure in the top row may look like another rower, but he is reaching much lower than the others, and were this to be a usual rowing stance he would soon be exhausted with back ache. Therefore he must be a general seaman, perhaps pushing a barrel or any of a hundred other items. The second row begins with three more sailors, all pulling on ropes. Even with rowers, galleys had sails and all the rigging that came with them, and ropes would be used to tie up to the dockside etc., so some generic rope-handlers make a lot of sense. Naturally many tasks required more than one man to pull on a rope, yet the stances of each man here means they can be the only one on the rope, which is a limitation but does not mean the poses are no good. However the man more or less pulling a rope from underneath him is difficult to explain. Finally we have two sailors carrying a bundle and a small cask. These could be trade goods or provisions for the ship, so good poses.
The costume of these figures is much the same as for those in Set 1, and we had some serious doubts over those. The first two rowers wear a heavy hooded coat and peakless cap, typical of Ottoman dress of the time, and both are also chained at the waist and foot. While the costume is valid it was surely not worn during the incredibly hard slog of rowing a galley in a very confined space with little ventilation and probably a warm day outside. References speak of galley rowers wearing very little, which is what these two should be wearing. The remaining two rowers, who are unshackled, wear shirts and a form of breeches which was common sailor dress, but again, while much better than the first two, you would expect these to be stripped to the waist on all but the coldest days. The rest of the sailors wear fairly typical dress for a smart Italian young man, with shirt, hose, stockings and caps perched on the head. All this is fine for much of the 16th century, but sailors seem to have worn a much simpler and more practical costume, and again in hot weather when working on the ropes they might wear relatively little, so we worried about this costume too, although we cannot be sure. All are clean-shaven and with neat long hair – they just do not look like working men to us.
We have already mentioned the arms held close together, so five of the poses here have unwanted plastic that will be hard to remove elegantly. Otherwise there is almost no flash, and generally we liked the sculpting style very much. There is lots of loose clothing here, so the way this hangs is important, and we thought it had been done very well. Limbs are nice and slender, and proportions look good, so some fine sculpting here.
Our worries over the very smart and fashionable appearance of these sailors, and the completely wrong slaves, rather dominate our view of this set. The rowing poses are not great, but some are good, so a mixed bag there, and the sculpting is very nice. This set matches Set 1 perfectly, warts and all, so while we are not aware of any definitive work on the appearance of Italian sailors and slaves, this set gave us plenty to worry about despite good technical production standards.