The copper plate wreck
A stroke of luck in misfortune
In early 2019, an unexpected treasure was found during the salvage operation of the hundreds of containers lost by the cargo ship MSC Zoe along the Dutch coast. Countless copper plates were retrieved from the sea by the salvagers. When a piece of wreckage was found, it became clear that it was not the contents of a container. Later research would show that the ship sank around 1540, confirmed by stamps from the powerful banking family Fugger, which had a monopoly on the copper trade in Europe at the time.
Creating art from historical material
The cargo of copper plates is material that was meant to become something, such as coinage. Instead, the copper plate wreck lay on the seabed for almost 500 years, becoming a treasure that bears the beauty of the sea.
The Dutch National Heritage Agency commissioned me to create art from this unique historical material. The work consists of fifteen photos measuring 80 x 120 cm. They represent three phases in time: the copper mine, the sea, and the here and now.
The mine: The copper likely originated from mines around Neuhsohl in present-day Slovakia. The copper was processed into plates 1-2 mm thick and approximately 84 x 61 cm in size.
Spatial installations were made from the plates, highlighting the copper and its patina. The eerie and cramped atmosphere of the spaces provide a glimpse into a dark underground world.
The sea: Selling and shipping copper was done by sea. The ship possibly departed from North Germany and was en route to Antwerp loaded with copper. The beauty of the copper plates is owed to the sea. The corrosion has formed in shapes recognizable from the interplay between sand and seawater.
Hundreds of years later, the cargo of copper was found, and the shipping route then was the same as it is now. Thanks to the busy shipping lanes, the wreck could remain hidden on the seabed for so long.
Here and now: The find has been cleaned and examined, and the Fugger family stamps are clearly visible on the round plates. For now, the unique historical material is stored in big bags or on pallets.
The find consists of nearly 13 tons of copper plates. There are round plates, packages of plates, and loose plates.