In 1771, a merchant ship left Amsterdam en route to St. Petersburg, Russia. Amongst its cargo was perhaps the most famous painting in the world at that time: The Nursery by Dutch Golden Age master Gerrit Dou. The painting was headed to Russian empress Catherine the Great, who was amassing a trove of cultural treasures to rival any collection in the world.
Unfortunately, a storm blew the ship off course and, tragically, it sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea, not to be seen again for more than 200 years.
In 1999, Finnish treasure hunter Rauno Koivusaari discovered the lost ship. The discovery sent shock waves around the world. Could Dou’s painting still be salvaged? Could the world reclaim a masterpiece?
Twenty years after the discovery, however, those questions remain unanswered. Why? Because the Finnish government, out of fear of making a mistake, has left the shipwreck untouched. There has been no effort to salvage.
Discussing this issue in the amazing book, The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure: Catherine the Great, a Golden Age Masterpiece, and a Legendary Shipwreck, one of the divers involved in the discovery said:
“If you don’t do anything, then you don’t make mistakes. If you don’t have dreams, then nothing happens.”
Salvaging the ship could be a disaster of international proportions for the Finnish Heritage Agency. Or it could capture the imagination of the world. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
This is a reminder to us all. Our masterpiece may be lying on the metaphorical floor of the Baltic Sea. We can leave it there, or we can free it. Either option has risk. But only one has a reward. The decision is up to us.
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