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The Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653

Willem Hermansz van Diest, The Battle of Leghorn, 4 March 1653, oil on canvas, 995 mm x 890 mm, dated mid 17th century. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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Early in 1653 the English position in the Mediterranean became critical, the Dutch had been blockading Captain Appleton’s squadron in Leghorn while the rest of the English ships under Captain Badiley were at Elba. The Dutch massed all their ships off Leghorn, enabling Badiley to leave Elba and attempt to join Appleton. The Grand Duke of Tuscany was urging Appleton to leave and a scheme was tried for Badiley to beat up to the Dutch while Appleton was to run before the wind out of Leghorn and meet him as he reached the Dutch. It was a difficult manoeuvre to time and in the event Appleton sailed too soon and was badly beaten before Badiley could get into action. Only one ship fought her way through to join Badiley who, seeing that the situation was hopeless, quitted the Mediterranean. In the centre of the picture van Galen, whose flagship is seen in port-quarter view, has just succeeded in blowing up the ‘Bonaventure’ with her starboard broadside. In the right background more ships are in action, with Leghorn beyond, and in the left background the battle also rages. There seems to be some confusion as to which was the Dutch flagship, since van Galen is painted with his flag in the ‘Moon’, 40 guns, which was Captain Cornelis Tromp’s ship, while he in fact commanded the ‘Zeven Provincien’, 40 guns. The artist was born in the Hague and was an early painter in the Dutch realist style.

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