1633 - 1707
An Engagement with Barbary Corsairs

Oil on canvas, inscribed bottom right
Image size: 19 x 23 3/4 inches (48 x 60.5 cm)
Period style frame


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This wonderful maritime scene shows at the centre an English ship, with British flags, being engaged by Barbary corsair galleys out on the open sea. A vessel, in the rear, seems to have been hit and is also sinking. Other ships have fired their guns and are in midst of a counter-attack and gun smoke is billowing over the scene. A sense of turmoil is prevalent as half-clad rowing crews attempt to escape drowning and are shown in their small boats coming to the rescue of others. Out onto the horizon more ships replicate the fighting.

The corsair galleys posed a great threat to merchant and other shipping ships. Throughout the seventeenth century North African corsairs  operated off the coast of North Africa and posed a threat to merchant shipping in the Mediterranean. Various European nations mounted punitive expeditions against the ‘Barbary Pirates’ and many actions were fought at this time in the Mediterranean between the British Streights Fleet and the Barbary corsairs. Therefore it is understandable that the naval battle with corsairs became a popular subject in Dutch and Flemish painting.

William van der Velde

The artist was the younger son of Willem van de Velde the elder. Born in Leiden, he studied under Simon de Vlieger in Weesp and in 1652 moved back to Amsterdam. He worked in his father’s studio and developed the skill of carefully drawing ships in tranquil settings. He changed his subject matter, however, when he came with his father to England in 1672–1673, by a greater concentration on royal yachts, men-of-war and storm scenes.

From this time painting sea battles for Charles II and his brother (and Lord High Admiral) James, Duke of York, and other patrons, became a priority. Unlike his father’s works, however, they were not usually eyewitness accounts. After his father’s death in 1693, his continuing role as an official marine painter obliged him to be more frequently present at significant maritime events.