The conquest of Andalusia in 1492 was quickly followed by a number of Spanish-sponsored expeditions of discovery that revealed to Europe the continent of America and the Pacific Ocean, and thus established an empire for the Spanish, making them the European superpower of the day. As well as voyages of discovery, the new but remote empire required a lot of servicing - most importantly the transfer of vast quantities of silver and other precious resources back to Spain – and there was a need to communicate with the Spanish possession of the Netherlands and to maintain her interests in the Mediterranean, so Spanish seafaring was of crucial importance in the 16th century. Not everyone that manned a Spanish ship at the time was necessarily Spanish – after all, Columbus was Genoese and Magellan was Portuguese, but in appearance seafarers of the day looked much the same regardless of nationality. Recruits were obtained wherever they could be found, and while the numbers manning a ship were loosely based on the displacement of that ship, there were many factors that could alter this equation quite dramatically, particularly the purpose of the voyage. While her ships were a vital part of the Spanish projection of power, her sailors would have a central role to play, and this is the first set to portray such men in this hobby.
We have reviewed a good many sets of early modern sailors on this site, and the basics apply to them all in terms of appearance. Clothing was practical and simple, and depended more on the weather and sea conditions than any fashion on land. Although a couple here seem to have trunk hose and a shirt, the majority wear what looks like a long smock gathered around the upper legs and secured with a belt to keep it out of the way. Clearly everyone here is in a warm climate, although we would have expected more caps to be worn as these remained popular with sailors to protect from the sun. The last man in the bottom row is dressed much like the rest but also has a brimmed cap, and by his demeanour seems to be in charge. He also wears shoes, which suggests a less physical role for him, as sailors almost always worked barefoot when on board, as all these figures are doing. So a simple costume but entirely reasonable as modelled in this set.
The first four poses are doing what sailors had to spend much time doing – climbing in the rigging or working on the masts and spars, so of course they have no bases. The two climbing poses look natural, and the other two seem to be standing over a spar and again look perfectly natural, so some good poses there. The fifth man is pushing something (one might assume a barrel here, or some piece of equipment perhaps), and the first three in the second row are engaged in another common activity – pulling on ropes. While no experts on how to handle a sailing ship of the 16th century we were very happy with all these poses, as we were with the last two men. The first is carrying a large bundle, which could be part of ship’s stores for example, and the last man looks to be supervising the work, as we have said. The selection of poses is not large, and since a ship’s crew for a typical 500 tonelada galleon would be about 90, mostly men such as these, a full crew would require many of each pose. However everything here is very usable and probably about the best choices for a 10 pose selection, given that officers (apart from the master) and other specialists have not been included.
The sculpting is very good, with lots of slender but well-formed limbs and good proportions. Although the clothing is simple it still needs to convince as fabric, and we thought it achieved this very well. The legs might seem overly slim, but calves such as men have today were unusual in the 16th century so that too looks good. There is no flash anywhere, and with only a small amount of excess plastic between the arms on a couple of the figures with arms together, these are very nicely produced without giving the appearance of being flat.
Other features could have been included such as more clothing for cooler climates, or even sailors dressed to go on shore, but we liked this set just as it is, well made, intelligently designed and eminently suitable for the many explorations, treasure ships and sea battles that marked Spain and her empire in the 16th century, and perhaps for the 17th century also.