The Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653

Reinier Nooms, The Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653, oil on canvas, 650 x 1170 mm, dated ca. 1653. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection


An interpretation of an action during the First Dutch War, 1652-54. The increasing conflict of trade interests between England and the Netherlands in the first half of the 17th century made armed conflict likely and inevitable after Cromwell’s Navigation Act of 1651. All three Anglo-Dutch wars which followed were solely maritime conflicts. By early in 1653 the English forces were split and their position in the Mediterranean became critical. Captain Badiley was trapped with four men-of-war at Porto Longone in Elba, and Captain Appleton with the ‘Leopard’, 50 guns and five hired merchantmen, was similarly placed at Leghorn, where the Dutch fleet was also hovering. To make matters worse, the British had incurred the displeasure of the Grand Duke of Tuscany when they violated the neutrality of this port by recapturing the ‘Phoenix’, 40 guns. This hardened the Duke’s opinion against the English and by the beginning of March 1653 Appleton was ordered to leave Leghorn. Furthermore, the news of the Dutch victory off Dungeness convinced the Grand Duke that the Dutch might win the war. When the Dutch massed all of their ships off Leghorn, it enabled Badiley to leave Elba and attempt to join Appleton. Unfortunately, when Badiley appeared heading towards Leghorn, Appleton sailed from port prematurely and attacked the Dutch before Badiley arrived to join him. Only one of Appleton’s squadron, the merchantman ‘Mary’, fought her way through to join Badiley, who, seeing the hopelessness of the situation, initially retreated to Elba and then returned to Britain. 150 men out of 200 were killed or wounded before Appleton surrendered his ship. As a consequence of the battle, the Dutch were left in command of the Mediterranean. In this depiction of the action, Leghorn is visible in the background to the left. In the foreground Appleton, in the ‘Leopard’, is fighting a losing battle between two Dutchmen. The ship on the left is the Dutch ‘Zon’, 40 guns, which was subsequently sunk. It has the emblem of the sun carved on its stern. To the right, the rest of the ships are depicted in action. Van Galen, the Dutch commander, is in the foreground firing at a ship already on fire, while another two English ships have sunk or are sinking on the left. The artist Reinier Nooms, also known as Zeeman, was born and died in Amsterdam. This pseudonym reflects the artist’s early life spent at sea. He painted in the Dutch realist style with a lively palette. The artist has signed ‘R Zeeman’ on the flag at the stern of the ‘Zon’. The painting is known to have been in the Landrat Loeb-Caldenhof Collection near Hamm, Westphalia, which was formed in the first years of the 19th century when church property was secularized on Napoleon’s orders. It was among many paintings sold about 1930, being acquired by the Galerie Julius Stern in Dusseldorf and subsequently sold to Sir James Caird for the Museum collection in 1933, through the Galerie Matthiessen, Berlin.

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