This tapestry is part of the first major royal commission received by the Van de Veldes in England. It is based on designs by the Elder depicting the Battle of Solebay (1672), which took place between the English and Dutch off the Suffolk coast. Here, we see the dramatic climax of the battle as the Royal James, flagship of the Earl of Sandwich, is destroyed by fireships leading to the death of almost all on board.
Although the outcome of the battle was inconclusive, Van de Velde the Elder’s depiction of this disaster on such a grand scale transforms it into a glorification of the English fleet’s heroism. He had witnessed and sketched the battle from the Dutch side; in portraying it for the English, he adapted the studies he had made to fit the English narrative. The vast tapestry captures in astonishing detail the horrors of battle and the terror in the face of a tiny figure clutching a fragment of wood in the lower foreground.
The elaborate borders of sea monsters and mermaids, probably designed by the workshop that wove the tapestries, are a stark contrast to the Elder’s journalistic style.
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