Towage (oil on canvas), 1969

Source: Technisches Museum Wien, Photo: Peter Sedlaczek
Convoys of towed ships had operated on the Danube for centuries, but their significance only began to wane as steamships became more predominant. The trend signalled the end of an arduous and dangerous profession. 
Plank-built boats had navigated on the Danube since Antiquity. The Romans used the ports at Lorch, Pöchlarn, Tulln, Vienna and Carnuntum, among others, as a base for their fleets.

Initially goods were transported on rafts and wooden barges. Up until the second half of the 14th century manpower was used to tow water craft upstream against the current; thereafter they were towed by horses along separate towpaths. Different types of ship were designed for different purposes. All the vessels required a rudder in both the bow and the stern. There were barges for regular use while flat boats used mostly for one downstream journey only were subsequently sold together with the goods on board at the port of destination.

To transport a cargo of 200 to 500 tonnes upstream, three to four larger vessels were usually linked together and drawn by teams of 30 to 50 horses. Under good conditions they would be able to cover a maximum of 30 km in a day. A large convoy could easily employ up to 60 sailors and horsemen, in a strict hierarchy according to function and rank.

The heyday for towed convoys was around 1830. By the turn of the century they had gradually been replaced by steam ships. The different types of boat design are still in use today on the Danube as rescue barges and occasionally as flat boats on the lakes of the Salzkammergut region.

The painting is by Ludwig Friedl, who was an employee of the Technisches Museum Wien (Vienna Technical Museum) from 1956 to 1976. It features tow-horses along the Danube upstream of Passau and was inspired by a painting by Friedrich Gauermann (1807 - 1862). The original is owned by the Wien Museum.

Dimensions: 601 x 301 x 6 cm

Inv.Nr. BPA-015283

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