Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich

The Collection

Your selection



Buy this image Add this to a collection
Share or embed this object  

Please contact the Picture Library if you would like to use this record and image under licence.

Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805, Baron Nelson of the Nile

Fine art

Object connections:

Object details:

Object ID BHC2895
Description A full-length portrait slightly to right, wearing rear-admiral's full dress uniform, 1795-1812. He also wears the ribbon and star of a Knight of the Bath, the St Vincent naval medal on a blue and white ribbon round his neck, and the Turkish chelengk on his hat. He stands on deck in front of a naval gun with his left arm outstretched, the index finger gesturing to an impression of the Battle of the Nile raging in the right background. His empty right sleeve is hooked up to a waistcoat button and on the right a chair is draped with the scarlet cloak he received among other gifts from the Sultan Selim III of Turkey after the Nile for thus saving the Ottoman Empire from Napoleon. In the left foreground are a close helmet and small shield or target, with the artist's signature on its rim, and blue drapes are drawn back to reveal the battle scene behind. The portrait is one of several versions by Guzzardi and there are copies by other hands. The idea for it originated two days after the battle, when Nelson's captains 'hoped that he will permit his Portrait to be taken in commemoration of that glorious day'. However, no portrait was made immediately because Nelson's appearance at this stage, with a wound above the eye, bandaged, and probably concussed, was not prepossessing. When he was more recovered in 1799 he was painted in Naples by Guzzardi, a local artist, and the various versions of this portrait – of which there are fourteen known replicas either by him or contemporary copyists – divide into two types. What is probably the original large full-length is now in the Admiralty Boardroom but formerly belonged to Sir William Hamilton, who may have taken the initiative to commission it. This, with the present small version (BHC2895), are part of an early group which show Nelson wearing only the insignia of the Order of the Bath and the St Vincent naval medal round his neck. Later versions and copies from them also show him wearing prominently on his right breast the star of the Turkish Order of the Crescent and Alexander Davison's (his agent's) privately issued gold medal for the Nile. In these, the official naval gold medal for the Nile has also joined that for St Vincent hanging on blue and white ribbon round his neck. It was one of this second type which Guzzardi painted for Nelson to send to the Sultan, in return for the gifts and honours that Selim showered on him. These included the chelengk, or diamond plume of triumph, from the Imperial turban, the first time such an honour had been bestowed on a Christian, and the scarlet pelisse lined with sable fur illustrated here on the right. The variance between the two portrait types, in which only the medals and orders differ, is accounted for by the fact that Davison's medal was only delivered to Nelson at Palermo in August 1799 and the Turkish order of the Crescent in November that year. They could of course have been added to portraits painted earlier but since the principal early ones were Hamilton's, a copy for the Neapolitan royal family (now in the Museo di San Martino, Naples) and others for Nelson himself, some of which he gave to friends, it seems that the two types are primarily separated by date. That is, the earlier ones were painted before August to November 1799 and the others later. This version, with the inscription 'For Our Master the King' on the back, is believed to be the second small copy after the large Hamilton version and made for Nelson himself. (The first small copy is that still in Naples and the inscription here at least suggests that there was an early redirection, this being the one originally intended for King Ferdinand). It descended in the Admiral's family and was bought from Earl Nelson in 1948. Guzzardi's portraits all show Nelson lean, emaciated and unnaturally coloured. His whole attitude is wooden and bizarre, though his appearance may have been bizarre at the time. He had been badly wounded, was in poor health and his eyes were already troubling him. His hat is tipped back unnaturally on his head, to prevent discomfort to the wound scar on his forehead which is more or less evident in all versions of the painting. The portrait positions the sitter at the interface of success in battle and heady taste of victory on the one side and sickness and problems in his private life on the other. Guzzardi is a shadowy figure but may have been a native of Palermo, Sicilian capital of the Neapolitan Bourbon monarchy. On the Hamilton version of the portrait he signed himself 'Leonardus Guzzardi pinx. Panormi 1799' (i.e. Panormus, the Latin name of Palermo), although it may alternatively indicate that the portrait was painted at Palermo, to which Nelson evacuated the Neapolitan court during the Jacobin revolt of 1799. Of the five other signed versions - all dated 1799 - two make similar reference to Palermo while three do not. Although absolutely no other work by Guzzardi is so far known, it seems likely that he was connected with Neapolitan court circles in order to have gained the original commission. This version is signed 'LEONARDUS GUZZARDI PIN 1799' on the rim of the shield, lower left.
Date made 1799

Artist/Maker Guzzardi, Leonardo
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 1104 mm x 760 mm x 100 mm;Overall: 16.4 kg;Painting: 838 mm x 508 mm
  • Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805, Baron Nelson of the Nile (BHC2895)
    Help us

    Do you know more about this?

    Share your knowledge