Saturday, April 11, 2009


Most of these pictures are of the battle of Trafalgar, of the Nile, and of the fight against the Spanish Armada. Click to enlarge.

I assume that most sea battles took place within several tens of miles from land. I dread to think of what happened to survivors (above) who had to navigate back to land from battles in the deep ocean. One of these days I'll have to read "Men Against the Sea," the story of Captain Bligh's thousand mile journey on a dingy after the Bounty mutiny.

A sea battle at night (above). It must have been quite a sight.

Here's a battle (above) in what might be the early morning. How strange to see savage killing at an hour of the day that we all associate with delicacy and quietude.

Was there ever a scene that was really like this (above), with sailors thick as ants clinging to the side of a ship? Cecil B. DeMille filmed scenes like this for "The Ten Commandments."

A scene from one of the Spanish Armada battles (above). This painting loses a lot by being seen small. Be sure to click to enlarge.

A modern painting (above) showing Nelson's ship "Victory" from a low angle.

It appears from paintings (above) that canon smoke often clung to the water. Was that because the guns were aimed low, at the waterline? 

It amazes me that anybody ever tried to take battle to the deep ocean. I mean wooden ships (above) were just corks on the waves.

A forest (above) of masts.

Nelson (above) painted by the lumpy artist who did the picture of the Victory broadside.

Apparently the trick in old naval battles (above) was to maneuver into a position where all your firepower was brought to bear on an enemy who was at a disadvantageous angle, and could only aim a few of his guns at you.

Here's a picture of Nelson's ship painted by Turner. Sometimes I prefer his earlier, more realistic pictures to the vague, soupy mist that he painted later in life.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Great pictures! I like the Renaissance one best!

You'd love Joe Orlando's "Tales Of the Black Freighter"


Oscar Baechler said...

My current desktop background of choice is stuff by Ivan Aivazovski. Check him out!

Lester Hunt said...

"Men Against the Sea" is a good read. Even better in several ways "The Bounty" by Caroline Alexander, which is very recent. I blogged about it here:

Jack G. said...

On firing the great guns:
A ships gun crew had to aim on the the roll of the ocean.

To sink a ship you would want to aim low and hit as the opposing ship came up on the roll of the ocean.

To keep a ship from manuevering or fleeing you would obviously aim at the rigging.

I would imagine that gun-powdered smoke is heavier than air.

If you like reading hisorical fiction check out the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian:

Careful, it's a 20-book series.
And it's very addictive.

You'll learn lots about the British navy in the time of Nelson.
Great insight into the culture of the time, too.

I have one book to go in the series and I'm quite sad to see it end.

thomas said...

That Battle of Gibraltar; those fragments a people tossed up against the sky is a pretty unique image.

Interesting post!

lastangelman said...

Most sea battles depicted are pretty much the invention of the artist. They would do some research, but more often than not, they would go for the drama, than reality. Some, like Turner, would turn out huge canvasses, veritable cast of thousands, amidst the chaos of smoke, splinters, spray, noise, powder and the occasional one on one combat. Others would be these tributes to a heroic captain in the heat of battle, others were documentary-like, capturing the gore, pain, confusion and horridness, especially the very few that caught the despair and humiliation of the losing side.
J.M.W. Turner is one of my favorite artists (have i mentioned that here before?). I am partial to his "soupy" paintings. I feel so privileged to have experienced his work, first when I was living in England and second when last year, the Dallas Museum of Art had this huge magnificent exhibit of his work. I must have been to the Dallas showing at least sixteen times. Reproductions in a book or on the web do no justice whatsoever. Have you seen his "soupy" paintings up close, Eddy. You really have to sit there and contemplate them, like Turner's patrons would have done. It's a shame you couldn't take time out last year to come to my fair city and see for yourself (we're hosting King Tut's treasures now until May 17).

3awashi thani said...

of course we'd do battle on the sea we'd do battle in space if we could, human nature/stupidity i suppose.
AMAZING paintings btw

buzz said...

DeMille's great sea battle movie wasn't either version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS; nor was it his version of CLEOPATRA (though it has an ingeniously staged battle in which one miniature ship is multiplied countless times by mirrors). DeMille's big naval battle epic was THE BUCCANEER, the story of Jean LaFitte. DeMille directed the first version with Frederick March in black and white; it's better than the sequel which DeMille only produced (son-in-law Anthony Quinn directed and Yul Brynner played LaFitte) though the sequel is enjoyable enough.

Teemu said...

I suspect that the smoke sticks close to the water only because there's nothing to lift it. As the saying "no smoke without fire" goes, there's usually a fire heating up the air and smoke making them lighter than air. I don't think a quick explosion in a cannon would do that. It only makes the cannonball briefly lighter than air...

I'd recommend Christophe Blain's "Isaac the Pirate" comic series, if you're not already familiar. Beautifully drawn and told, and while being a fairly romantic adventure of a painter-turned-pirate, it's really brutal when it comes to depicting life at sea or the aftermath of a sea battle.

Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea said...

Wow those visuals must have been scary in real life. I feel like I'm missing something obvious when I wonder: how do the artists live to paint these? Or are these just done by sailors who happen to be able to paint and survived? I would think you could only depict these sorts of events with an instant snapshot.

I like the first four color moods. Nighttime is eerie. I wish I could paint.

Michael Sporn said...

That Turner picture is amazing. I hadn't seen it before.

Tall ships have always fascinated me. As a kid I drew hundreds of them from imagination and memory. For some reason, I didn't get excited by the real thing when I came face to face with them.

Thanks for the post. Enlightening and thoughtful as always.

Vincent Waller said...

A tough manly world. Way too manly for me, and I'm just talking about the hygiene, let alone the massive chunks of hot metal ripping through.

Julian said...

Jorge: I'm sure you know this already, but EC made a comic called Piracy. I don't think it's got a modern collection like the other EC comics, you might be able to find it online.

Julian said...

Eddie, what do you think of the romantic painter Casper David Friedrich?

lastangelman said...

The one comic I can think of that did pretty spectacular cast of thousands type scenes was Goscinny's and Uderzo's Asterix The Gaul. I was introduced to Asterix while I was in the UK back in the latter seventies. Broad humor, pop culture references, jokes in Latin and beautifully detailed pages that bordered on spectacular. My fave recommendation is Asterix The Legionary. It's a pity every attempt to animate the little Gaulish hero and his adventures has been a complete dud.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Oscar: Wow! Some nice paintings! Thanks for the tip!

Jorge: I wonder if I read that a long time ago in a book that bundled it with Dark Frigate. I'll look it up. Thanks!

Jack: I read the first 3 books in that series and will certainly read more.

Buzz, Last: Interesting!

Teemu: Isaac the Pirate? I'll look it up! Thanks!

Julian: Friedrich is an interesting guy. I might blog about him someday.

Last: Goscinny could draw, alright!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

lester: Wow! A terrific review! you have a knack for this kind of writing! Now i want to read the book!

Craig said...

Hi Eddie: It was kind of a battle so I wanted to let you know that our Tide Talking Stain was voted Best Office Commercial in the World on TBS last night!

gracesix said...

This is off topic, but I have a question for you. Are feature length cartoons really for kids? I ask this because I remember what my attention span was like back then and just because I was looking at a screen didn't necessarily mean I knew what was happening on it. I talked to other people about it and they too would get the shock of their lives when they'd revisit an old movie. Nothing was as they remembered it, because they had made a whole new plot line up in their heads!

Clarity said...

Being in the UK, we are awash with Turner history and imagery. The reality of these dramatic paintings is hard to conceive of now. Well done for thinking behind the painting.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Craig: I saw the shower head commercial when it debuted, and I remember thinking how well it sold the product. Nice films!!!

Grace: Interesting comment! Now you've got me wondering if animated features are really for kids.