This work shows an English naval attack off Lisbon and was presumably painted for an English patron.
This painting shows a scene from the last naval expedition to take place during the reign of Elizabeth I - an attack led by Sir Richard Leveson (c.1570-1605) and his Vice Admiral, Sir William Monson (c.1568-1643). Leveson commanded a large British fleet which was sent towards the Portuguese islands of the Azores to find and capture Spanish treasure ships. On 1 June 1602 Leveson heard news of the ‘San Valentine’, a richly laden Spanish merchant ship with eleven galleys protecting it. The ‘San Valentine’ was moored in Cezimbra Bay, about 20 miles south of Lisbon.
Despite having only five ships, Leveson launched an attack. On the morning of 3 June he entered the bay and found the ‘San Valentine’ located beneath the protection of the guns of Cezimbra Castle. In the ensuing fight, which lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to five o’clock in the evening, two of the eleven Spanish galleys were burnt, while the rest surrendered. The ‘San Valentine’ was taken to England, where her cargo realised £43,851. The Queen granted Leveson £3,000 for his success.
As a young man Hendrick Cornelisz Vroom, a native of Haarlem, was travelling from Haarlem to Seville when he was shipwrecked near Lisbon. Local inhabitants planned to kill survivors of the wreck, thinking them to be pirates. However, Vroom showed them small religious paintings, which he had intended to sell in Seville and the Portuguese decided the party were Christian and spared them. Vroom later lived at Setúbal, where he painted sea pieces. He had earlier spent two years in Rome and also knew Spain and France. He travelled to England, where he was commissioned by the Lord Admiral (the Earl of Nottingham) to make cartoons for tapestries of the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588. These were destroyed in the Houses of Parliament fire of 1834.
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