Maritime Art

An English Ship in Action with Barbary Corsairs, circa 1680

By Willem van de Velde, the Younger (1633-1707)

This magnificent painting of a mid-seventeenth century sea battle was painted by Willem van de Velde the Younger. It shows an action between an English two-decker and a Barbary two-decker, with several galleys also being depicted as well as the stern of another larger ship, wreathed in smoke to the right of the image. Beyond that ship are more vessels, hidden by smoke, only their square-sails visible suggesting they are large ships, similar to those at the front of the scene. The English two-decker to the left clearly flies a Union jack and red ensign together with a pendant with the cross of St George at the main. The Barbary ship she is engaging is on fire amidships.

Willem was a particularly gifted artist and he worked alongside his father, Willem van de Velde the Elder who was a gifted draughtsman. Together they worked for Charles II from early 1674. After his father’s death, Willem the younger was employed in an official capacity to be present at significant maritime events though his earlier work tends not to have been created as an eyewitness, unlike much of his father’s work.

The Society has published a number of articles on this period in the Mariner’s Mirror including Admiralty and Naval Affairs, May 1660 to March 1674 which Summarises documents on g finance, pay, pensions, legal, medical, prisoners of war, victualing and shipbuilding; operations including occupation of Tangier, payment for the Equity seized by Monaco, preparations with the Dutch in the Channel, actions against the Barbary pirates, occupation of Dunkirk, actions against Ostend privateers, Jamaica. It also includes the order for the raising of a regiment of Marines in 1664 and issuing medals to reward captains of fireships.

The Society has also published a recent book review of ‘Lords of the Sea: A history of the Barbary Corsairs’ by Alan G. Jamieson which argues that this troubled maritime period spanned several centuries and, in terms of narrative, the theme is both colourful and full of adventure. However, the story of the Barbary Corsairs tells of deeper matters: protracted politico-religious struggle on the grand scale, complete with a great deal of suffering. Moreover, it contains chapters of maritime history that were powerfully affected by changing ship and armament technology – and, eventually, by the consequences of revolutionary upheaval in Europe and North America.

Maritime Art Archive

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