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English Ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588

Image credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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The painting may have been a design for a tapestry, or if not is laid out like one, and is dateable to the years immediately following the event. The composition appears less like a painting than a formal design in a mannered style but no other contemporary image of the Armada conveys a comparable sense of the drama and colour of the confrontation between the two fleets. The emblematic foreground arrangement of a Spanish galleass flanked by two English warships suggests that the picture was intended primarily as a symbol of the Armada campaign as a whole, although it is a symbol edged with satire. The galleass flies the Papal banner and the arms of Spain but her complement includes a number of figures – many portrayed as sinister zealots – led by a preaching monk, and a death's head or skeleton in a jester's costume. This renders her a 'ship of fools'. The quietly humorous anti-Catholic invective is heightened by a representation of a distraught Spaniard – perhaps meant for Phillip II or the Armada's commander, the Duke of Medina Sidonia – in a boat near the stern.

National Maritime Museum

London

Title

English Ships and the Spanish Armada, August 1588

Date

late 16th C

Medium

oil on poplar panel

Measurements

H 112 x W 143.5 cm

Accession number

BHC0262

Work type

Painting

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National Maritime Museum

Romney Road, Greenwich, London, Greater London SE10 9NF England

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