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The Battle of Cape Passaro, 11 August 1718

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: UK: Navy
Provenance: King William IV
EventsWar of the Quadruple Alliance: Battle of Cape Passaro, 1718

Object details:

Object ID BHC0351
Description A depiction of an action during the war with Spain, 1718-20. In 1717, to strengthen the Treaty of Utrecht, Britain, France and Austria contemplated ceding Sicily to the Emperor. This arrangement displeased Spain, who wanted to recover the island. Admiral Sir George Byng was accordingly sent to the Mediterranean. Early August found Byng's fleet at anchor in the Bay of Naples. On 6 August, he sailed for Messina, the only place in Sicily that had not fallen to the Spaniards. On approaching, he heard that the Spanish fleet was close by and he soon sighted the Spanish, who retreated before him in line of battle all that day and night. To ensure that he did not lose them in the darkness he sent ahead his fastest ships, who kept close to the enemy, carrying lights to guide the rest of the fleet. The morning of 11 August found Byng close to his enemy and to windward of him off Cape Passaro, the south-eastern tip of Sicily. Spain and England were not formally at war at this time, since the war did not officially break out until December 1718, but once the Spanish fired on the nearest English ships, this gave Byng his excuse to attack. The English were superior in numbers and some of the Spanish ships were taken in the main action and some taken or burnt by their crews, who fled to the coast of Sicily. This included the Spanish Commander-in-Chief, Vice-Admiral Don Antonio Castaneta, and Rear-Admiral Don Fernando Chacon, along with 13 out of the 20 larger ships of war. In this painting, created half a century after the event, the action is shown at about 4 o'clock. Byng's flagship the 'Barfleur', 90 guns, is prominently depicted firing her starboard broadside, in starboard-bow view left of centre, into the 'San Luis', 60 guns. On the right, the principal Spanish flagship, the 'Real San Felipe', 74 guns, is shown in starboard-broadside view being raked from the stern by the 'Superbe', 60 guns, and hauling down her flag. This fire is being returned by a Spanish rear-admiral in port-quarter view, and by another Spanish ship which is seen in port-bow view on the 'Barfleur's' quarter, almost obscured by smoke. To the left of this group a Spanish ship lies in starboard-quarter and broadside view, with her colours struck. To the left of her are the bows of an English ship beside a further prize. On the right of the painting, in the distance, another Spanish Rear-Admiral is sailing out of the picture, hotly engaged on both sides. Of the Spanish fleet, 16 were taken and seven burnt. The artist started his painting career as an assistant to a ship's painter on Sir Charles Knowles's ship, and he rose to become one of the principal painters of naval actions of the 18th century. The painting was exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1767 and 1768.
Date made 1767

Artist/Maker Paton, Richard
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 1320 mm x 2133 mm; Frame 1601 x 2402 x 145mm
  • The Battle of Cape Passaro, 11 August 1718 (BHC0351)
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