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Maarten Platje (Dutch, Contemporary)

“The Conquering Hero: Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson’s victorious flagship HMS ‘Vanguard’ towed into Naples by HMS ‘Thalia’, 22nd September 1798 after The Battle of The Nile”

Oil on Linen Canvas
26 x 36 inches (66 x 91.5 cm)
Signed, lower right
Framed in a hand-finished gold frame with white gesso slip

Maarten Platje has recreated one of the great moments in the extraordinary life of Horatio Nelson in the aftermath of one of the greatest and most important British naval victories.

After his stunning victory over the French fleet at The Battle of The Nile Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson was about to become the most famous and dashing British naval hero. He would be ennobled by Britain and showered with titles and honours by many other countries. However his flagship at the battle, HMS Vanguard, had been terribly damged not only by the battle but also by two severe storms. Thus the flagship of the victor of The Nile had to be towed into Naples by the beautiful frigate Thalia for repairs. This is the scene Maarten has painted; to the left can be seen a ship of the Royal Neapolitan Navy, flying their flag and in the right background is a badly damaged British ship, the Alexander, awaiting repair. A lovely Royal Neapolitan barge, also flying their flag, approaches Vanguard. The British flagship flies a white ensign because Nelson, although an admiral of the blue, had ordered white to be flown in the battle, believing them to be more easily recognisable.

Yet this day was highly important for Nelson apart from the glory of his victory, for it was on this day that he met Emma Hamilton again and their famous affair was kindled. Naples was in wild and ecstatic celebration of the victory and Emma, wife of the British Envoy Sir William Hamilton was almost mad with excitement. She and Sir William went out in the Royal Barge with King Ferdinand IV of Naples and the Royal Family to greet the returning hero and it is reported that Emma fainted clean away on meeting Nelson.

Maarten Platje has succeeded in uniting several strands in this exceptional and lovely painting. There is the meticulous rendering of these beautiful and intricate ships (the detail in this painting is incredible and should be studied closely); the depiction of the exotic old harbour in strong sunlight; a very interesting presentation of the other side of warfare, showing the terrible damage inflicted on ships by enormous guns and powerful storms; and alongside this is a brilliantly rendered sense of human emotions, because we know that this day, as well as a celebration of victory, was the start of one of the world’s most famous love affairs.