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Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleProvenance: Fairborough, Charles
EventsAnglo-Spanish War: Spanish Armada, 1588

Object details:

Object ID BHC0264
Description A theatrical interpretation of the Battle of Gravelines, an historical episode that had taken place over 200 years earlier. The artist's painterly response depicts the dramatic nature of the event, together with a vivid use of light and colour to enhance the intensity of the image and the sense of violent struggle. The narrative shows the morning after the English fireship attack on the Armada in Calais Roads, which found the Spaniards in a north-westerly gale off Dunkirk. A shift in the wind direction prevented many of their ships from being wrecked on the surrounding shoals. Saved from this disaster, they fought all day with the English and Dutch until they turned northwards, defeated, on their retreat around Scotland. In the left foreground, a boat-load of English sailors are fighting their way into the beak of a Spanish ship which is silhouetted against the flame and smoke. The Duke of Medina Sidonia's flagship, the 'San Martin', flying the Papal standard at the main above a religious banner and the Spanish ensign on her stern, is immediately beyond to the right. The central Spanish ship beyond the 'San Martin' flies the flag of Leon and Castile at the main and the ragged saltire cross of Burgundy on a striped ground as an ensign. Immediately in front of her is a much smaller English galleon, while further Spanish ships lie to the left. In the foreground centre and to the left, several more small boats contain men fighting at close quarters, some in full armour with swords and some preparing to fight with only oars. In the small dismasted Spanish pinnace which is being overwhelmed in the immediate foreground, a monk stands with his arms spread wide, perhaps in desperate benediction over his comrades. The English fleet is attacking from the right, with the 'Ark Royal' half into the canvas in the right foreground. The royal arms of Elizabeth I are visible on the foresail with the Royal Standard and St George's flag flying from the main- and foremasts respectively. 'Ark Royal', was the flagship of the English fleet during the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588, under the Lord Admiral, Charles Howard (Lord Howard of Effingham). Born in Strasbourg, son of a miniaturist, de Loutherbourg was already a well-established member of the French Academy and painter to Louis XIV when he actor David Garrick persuaded him to settle in London as scenic director at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1773-83, at the huge salary of £500 a year. It is worth noting that in 1779 he designed a staging of the Armada battle as a spectacular scene in Sheridan's comedy 'The Critic, or a Tragedy Rehearsed' at Drury Lane. While this painting was done much later it is the only image which may suggest the general style of this scene. De Loutherbourg was a highly successful and influential designer for the theatre and, primarily as a Romantic landscape painter, was elected to the Royal Academy in 1781. He exhibited there in most years from 1772 to his death in 1812. The work is inscribed 'P I Loutherbourg RA 1796'.
Date made 1796

Artist/Maker Loutherbourg, Philippe-Jacques de
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 2146 mm x 2781 mm; Frame: 2370 mm x 2970 mm x 183 mm; Overall: 114 kg;
  • Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588 (BHC0264)
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