The drama of a Dutch paper theatre

Whaling days all part of 18th century children’s theatre play

Set of printed toy theatre drops depicting whaling scenes / by Louis Foubert, [1740?]
Set of printed toy theatre drops depicting whaling scenes / by Louis Foubert, [1740?] Digitised item from State Library of Tasmania.

Cataloguer at Libraries Tasmania, Tara Cuthbert, describes one of her favourite items in the collection:

“A miniature paper theatre from the eighteenth century sits in the State Library of Tasmania.

Louis Foubert, a printer active from 1735 to 1742, printed the paper theatre in Amsterdam around 1740. The inscription on the theatre describes him as a ‘Boekverkoper [bookseller] in de Gaaper Steeg’.

Nearly 300 years after it was printed, this tiny dramatic whaling scene transports me to another time.

From the early seventeenth century, several European nations including the Netherlands hunted bowhead whales in the waters off Greenland.

The chaos in this scene is magnetic. The wild seas filled with colliding whaling boats, the icy coastline and looming storm clouds all combine to create a sense of drama. Two bears hiding behind an iceberg are seemingly unaware of the unfolding scene.

After printing, the paper scenes were mounted on card or wood and coloured in by children, which is possibly why the polar bears are coloured brown.

The theatre scenes stir mixed emotions. I was sad for the harpooning of the whales, afraid for the bears should their turn be next, and nervous for the figures on the boats. One wrong move and they could fall into the sea with some angry whales.

On this tiny stage a huge drama was enacted by children hundreds of years ago. It was my favourite thing to catalogue when it arrived in the collection a few years ago, and recently digitised for all to enjoy.”

Watch out for brown polar bears!
(paper theatre detail)
How to make a whale angry
(paper theatre detail)
Hybrid walrus/polar bear creatures are not safe either
(paper theatre detail)

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