Dutch School circa 1604-1609, The conflict between the English Fleet and the Spanish Armada
Lot 48
Dutch School, circa 1604-09 The conflict between the English Fleet and the Spanish Armada during the launching of English fireships on the Spanish fleet off Calais, with troops holding an English standard in the foreground and Queen Elizabeth I on horseback attended by a nobleman, possibly the Earl of Leicester, beyond, 14 x 35 cm.(5½ x 13¾ in.)
Sold for £138,650 (US$ 176,294) inc. premium

Lot Details
Dutch School, circa 1604-09
The conflict between the English Fleet and the Spanish Armada during the launching of English fireships on the Spanish fleet off Calais, with troops holding an English standard in the foreground and Queen Elizabeth I on horseback attended by a nobleman, possibly the Earl of Leicester, beyond
inscribed 'SPAENSCHE ARMAD INT IAR 1588' (in a cartolino upper centre) with further inscriptions in gold: 'NR' (in top quadrants) and 'PN' (in bottom quadrants, on English standard held by troops, lower right); 'S MA...TUS/OR...A/PE...R/NOBIS' (St Matthew pray for us, arranged around oval image of male saint on ensign of main Spanish ship, lower left); and 'P...G' (on approximations of Spanish royal standards, with Burgundian ragged crosses at the main, fore and ensign staff of the Spanish flagship, centre right)
gouache on vellum laid down on panel
14 x 35 cm.(5½ x 13¾ in.)


    Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1975-95 (inv. C1583)

    Pieter van Thiel, All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum, 1976, p.910, ill.

    The only other known example of such an early miniature depiction in gouache of the Spanish Armada is now in the National Maritime Museum and was exhibited this year at the Museum's Elizabeth exhibition (cat. no. 251, p.240. This miniature was formerly in the Mentmore collection and acquired at Christie's sale of Important Old Master Drawings, 23 March 1982, lot 1988, pl.51; see also Armada, 1588-1988: an international exhibition to commemorate the Spanish Armada, Pengiun/National Maritime Museum, 1988, p.244, ill.) Both miniatures also relate to two prints in the Nederlands Scheepvartmuseum, Amsterdam (Armada, nos. 14.30 and 31, ill. p.254), which in turn relate to an early 17th century Netherlandish oil painting in the National Maritime Museum (NMM BHC0263; Armada, 14.27). This material all bears witness to Protestant Dutch celebration of their part as England's allies in the defeat of the Armada, a major event in their struggle to extricate themselves from the Spanish yoke.
    The composition of the National Maritime Museum miniature is similar overall but with many detailed differences. It lacks the male and female riders and has no inscription to identify the San Mateo, although the equivalent ship also flies the Christ banner and is under attack by a Dutch-flagged vessel from the left. Its treatment is also more mannered and it bears an elaborate cartouche with the royal arms and initials 'IR' of James I of England and a detailed identifying inscription in French, although the colouration may suggest a Flemish hand. Given that England made peace with Spain in 1604 and the Dutch followed in 1609, it may have been painted as a Dutch diplomatic gift around either date. The present example, however, shows more specific detail in a plainer treatment, while its Dutch inscription and the prominence given to the capture of the San Mateo suggest that its associations are more obviously Dutch. The references to Elizabeth do not prove a pre-1603 date: the National Maritime Museum's version and at least one Dutch print (14.30) also bear her arms on the officer's standard, bottom right, and both known prints of this subject are believed to be early 17th century, with an earliest approximate date (for 14.31) of circa 1602.
    The present gouache represents a composite image of the fight between the English fleet and the Spanish Armada, focusing on the launch of English fireships on the anchored Spanish fleet off Calais on the night of 7 August 1588. This resulted in the Spaniards cutting their cables and the ensuing battle off Gravelines on the 8th, after which they were driven northward, partly by the English, but also by the prevailing wind. The weather and the English fleet then forced them to retreat for Spain around Scotland and Ireland, losing many ships and men to storm and shipwreck on the way.
    The English fleet appears centre and right, the majority at anchor off the English coast, but with one ship advancing on and firing at the Spanish galleasses galleys with broadside guns) in the foreground. The Ark Royal, flagship of the English Lord High Admiral and commander-in-chief, Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham, is also under sail toward the enemy in the middle distance. She flies the Royal Standard at the main, an approximation of his personal standard as Lord Admiral at the fore and prominent St George's crosses on sails and other flags. In the right distance, beacons warning of the Armada burn along the English coast. On shore in the middle ground, an aristocratic man and woman on horseback are attended by soldiers. This group most likely alludes to the Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth I's favourite and her lieutenant commanding the English defence on land, and to the Queen herself, who made a famous visit and rousing speech to Leicester's army at Tilbury during the campaign. In the bottom right corner English troops are shown on a coastal eminence, a feature in related prints (Armada 14.30 and 14.31). They include an officer in white holding aloft a flag bearing St George's cross and Elizabeth's arms, with their distinctive lion and griffin supporters. This figure may also allude to Leicester, who had been the Queen's commander (and self-styled governor-general) in the Netherlands, 1585-88, immediately before the Armada.
    The Spanish lie to the left off the coast of Calais. Some ships are still arriving in the far distance. Some are at anchor in the middle distance with the English fireships approaching. A few in the foreground confront an attacking English warship, and the fireships, with their bow guns. These include a Spanish flagship in the centre right, flying Spanish flags (an approximation of Philip II's royal arms on the Burgundian ragged cross of the Spanish Netherlands) and a Burgundian ragged-cross white flag on her bonaventura mizzen. This is presumably intended as the San Martinof the Duke of Medina Sidonia, overall commander of the Armada at the head of the Squadron of Portugal. In the left foreground, in action, are two of the Armada’s four Neapolitan galleasses. Two survived to reach safety at Le Havre and Santander, one went aground off Calais and the fourth, the Girona, was wrecked with heavy loss of life early in September 1588, on Lacada Point, County Antrim. The large ship to the left of the galleys, with the inscribed religious ensign at her stern represents the San Mateo of Maestro del Campo Don Diego Pimentel in the tercio of Sicily (Squadron of Portugal). This was the only major Armada vessel except the San Martin to which the Latin abbreviation S MA…TUS could refer. With the San Felipe she was captured on 9 August by the Dutch under the vice-admiral of Holland, Pieter van der Does, after both ships ran aground on the Flemish banks. Part of the banner of Christ on the Cross, shown flying from her main-topmast rigging, survives in the Lakenhal Museum, Leiden (see Armada, 13.18). The fact that the small two-masted Dutch vessel harrying her on the left bears the lion rampant of Holland on its stern supports this identification.
    We are very grateful to Pieter van der Merwe of the National Maritime Museum for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this lot is signed with a monogram 'W/HE' (in gold, lower right, the H and the E in ligature)
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