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Willem van Diest

A Naval Battle

c. 1652
685 x 785 cm

This naval battle is a masterpiece by Willem van Diest, the founder of a dynasty of marine artists spanning three generations. Van Diest’s vast scene clearly depicts a battle between Dutch and English vessels. The scene immediately calls to mind the three naval wars that the Dutch and English fought during the seventeenth century. Dating the painting and determining the battle is no easy task. Van Diest lived long enough to experience the First (1652-1654, fig. 1) and Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667), and was possibly still alive during the Third (1672-1674). However, there are good reasons to assume that the artist represented an episode from the First AngloDutch War, a conflict with a devastating impact on the Dutch Republic. The country had won its independence from Spain, confirmed in 1648 with the Peace of Munster, which ended the Eighty Years War, and was not prepared for new hostilities with other nations, least of all with the mighty seaborne empire of Great Britain. Many of the battles at sea fought during this war ended in catastrophes for the Dutch. The men of war in Van Diest’s painting all have rather steep sterns, typical for three-masters of the earlier half of the seventeenth century. It is thus more likely that we are looking at a scene from the First Anglo-Dutch War.

Artist Willem van Diest
Title A Naval Battle
Date c. 1652
Technique Oil
Materials Canvas
Dimensions 685 x 785
Signed & dated Signed with initials lower right: W V D

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