Death & the Sea in the Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum

Fathers, sons, neighbors. Lost at sea. Which terrifying events did they experience and what had become of them, eventually? Did they drown? Did they drift ashore? Were they devoured by a terrifying sea monster? Or did they die because of a terrible illness on board? Dreadful stories spread about the dangers at sea and the people who did not return. The relationship between death and the sea is a theme that can be applied to every sea that this earth knows, and between 22 November 2019 and 1 March 2020 the Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum focuses on this theme by means of the new exhibition Dood & de Zee- cultuur, rituelen en gebruiken.

The sea plays a major part in Dutch history; not only is it an important source for food, it also stimulates economic welfare and places The Netherlands on the map as an important trading nation.

But the sea gives and takes, and is therefore connected to death like no other. The unbelievable number of shipwrecks, at the bottom of the seas surrounding us, bear witness to this. Why did sailors not return? Belief and unbelief, knowledge and fantasy, myths and legends: science and superstitions overlapped for a long time, even after the Middle Ages.

With the Northern part of The Netherlands as a focal point, Dood & de Zee in the Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum deals with these elements in a wonderful way. The museum does this by means of three themes, spread over the basement, ground floor and attic of the building.

The theme ‘Death at sea’ (Dood op zee) confronts visitors with the varying causes of death that existed at sea. ‘Mourning and superstition’ (Rouw en bijgeloof) shows the early rituals of sailors and their families, that mostly emanated from superstition. In line with this theme, the visitor seemingly wanders over the bottom of a dark ocean, surrounded by terrifying sea monsters. The final theme, ‘Disasters and rescues’ (Rampen en reddingen), deals with fragments from various diaries that share stories about shipwrecks and heroic rescue missions.

The different spaces in the museum not only show objects, photos and stories connected to the themes mentioned above. They also confront the visitor in a breathtaking way with storm and wind, fear, mourning and sorrow through the use of multimedia presentations.