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Naval captain Yuri Lisianskii drew a harbor scene in Alaska about 1805. It was engraved in England for an edition of his book.

Engraving of harbor scene

(High-res version)

In the image, from left to right, there are flags flying on a building, a ship, and a fort. The flag on the building is the simple tricolor of Peter the Great that Russia uses today. The flag on the ship is the ensign of the Imperial Navy. However, after comparing to other Russian flags and the flag of the Russian-American Company, I can't identify the third one.

Blow-up view of mystery flag

What's that flag?

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    Hmmmm - isn’t Peter the Great’s flag White ?top stripe, Blue center stripe, Red bottom stripe? Thus picture has the red and blue inverted.... regardless, no idea on the one in question. – Kerry L Dec 6 '18 at 22:14
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    If you turn this flag diagonally, you get the Russian Jack and Fortress flag, which would have flown from 1700-1917. – justCal Dec 6 '18 at 23:03
  • Observations: 1) The rigging on the ships is exquisitely detailed - so I presume the irregularities and brown banks of the depicted blue cross is intentional - suggesting that it represents 4 streams. 2) That's a moosehead in the upper right! Could this be a temporary flag for the Russian American Company, prior to adoption of its official flag in 1806 (the following year)](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_Russian-American_Company)? – Pieter Geerkens Dec 7 '18 at 3:56
  • Regina Lindholm's design is a curious twin – LаngLаngС Dec 7 '18 at 10:16
  • Great point @KerryL. Sloppiness on the part of the artist (engraver?) could be a big part of the answer to this question. – Aaron Brick Oct 18 '19 at 1:12
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What is the strange third flag? I would say nothing we can identify, its an error by the engraver and doesn't represent what was seen (or drawn) by Lysianskyi. Let me explain.

Once again comments touch on the truth of the matter, one comment pointing out the incorrect colors on another flag in the image:

Hmmmm - isn’t Peter the Great’s flag White ?top stripe, Blue center stripe, Red bottom stripe? Thus picture has the red and blue inverted.... regardless, no idea on the one in question. – Kerry L Dec 6 '18 at 22:14

We can take a look at that other flag:

enter image description here

If we compare that to known information concerning the Russian American Company flags, we find that this flag should be the commercial flag of Russia.

enter image description here

White over blue, over red. But this not what is depicted in this illustration.


@Pieter Geerkens in comments point out

rigging on the ships is exquisitely detailed

, so we should accept the rest as equally correct, but there's a problem with that, and we aren't the first to notice this discrepancy. The point being that what we are seeing represents the work of two different individuals.


Our problem is discussed in an article by Dr. Svetlana G. Federova, originally published by the Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R., a translation of which appeared in the Pacific Historian, vol 14, No. 1, winter 1978, discussing The Flag of the Russo-American Company. This is available on a PDF at fortross.org. Here is a clipping from that article discussing the apparent discrepancies over what was observed vs what was drawn (sorry I had to resort to an image, the font used does not ocr well):

enter image description here

From this we can gather a couple of points:

  • The original drawing was in 'black India ink on blue paper'
  • The original drawing of this flag bore no resemblance to what appeared in the later edition.

The fact that this image shows such detail on the ships rigging might be due to the fact that this aspect of the original is essentially in black and white and there was no confusion there. But from the rest of the above paragraph it is quite apparent that this image does not represent what was drawn in the original hand written journal. Even though this article is discussing a different portion of the image than the OP, I see little reason to believe that the questioned flag is being displayed any more accurately then the first.

We have been chasing an artists (mis)conception.


---Update--- After seeing this Information, @Aaron Brick was able to find another publication by Dr. Federova which actually showed the inked original by Lisianskii, and which seems to confirm my suspicions:

Pulled out my volume of Fedorova and surprise, it contains Lisiansky's india ink drawings of the two harbors. His tricolors have the middle band darkest as they should, while the mystery flag, almost too small to see, appears to have a simple cross...Aaron Brick

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  • Lisiansky's view of New Arkhangelsk is a different image that lacks the mystery flag. I can easily believe that he used the same tools for all his drawings, though. I found a view of it here: christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/… – Aaron Brick Dec 11 '19 at 20:23
  • That's definitely a different version, still the same engraver, and still an inaccurate flag shown. I do wonder about the 'original hand drawn version' mentioned in the article. The author seemed to have researched closely, mentioning visiting the Hermitage to view the original company flag preserved there, IIRC. – justCal Dec 11 '19 at 20:53
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    Pulled out my volume of Fedorova and surprise, it contains Lisiansky's india ink drawings of the two harbors. His tricolors have the middle band darkest as they should, while the mystery flag, almost too small to see, appears to have a simple cross. I think you are correct: the engraver Clark invented both the colors and the corner elements. – Aaron Brick Dec 11 '19 at 21:45
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    Very nice job on a difficult question, wish I could upvote several times - it really deserves more than it's got so far. – Lars Bosteen Dec 12 '19 at 5:55
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    It did take a year to work out the answer though... – justCal Dec 12 '19 at 13:05

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