Against the backdrop of a coastline, possibly Brielle, an impressive ‘Man-o-War’ is awaiting its departure. To the right a ‘wijdschip’ moves towards land and in the centre a little fishing boat brings in the catch of the day. In the distance a Merchant fleet is anchored off. A rowing boat brings officers aboard the war vessel.
A red flag raised on the main ship appears bright against the overall subdued colours. Although this flag is commonly known as a ‘blood flag’, raised when either explosive
substances were brought aboard or the fleet was about to engage in battle, a different meaning applies to this situation. According to seventeenth-century documents on general flag signals for battleships at sea, a red flag was also raised when an Admiral-General wanted the gathering of his company’s war council on his ship to discuss strategic matters. The white signal flag of the smaller vessel behind the Man-of-war was also a sign for consultation.
Indeed, a council is being rowed aboard and appears to gather on the main ship. The weapon imagery on the stern of the ship, the yellow lion against red, tells us that it is not just any admiralty ship but very likely a warship of the ‘States General’. Originating in the 15th century as an assembly of all the provincial states of the Burgundian Netherlands, it had the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch West India Company under its general supervision and sailed with the merchant fleets to protect its merchandise and crew during its long journey oversees. Around the time this seascape was painted the protection of merchant ships was rather urgent: the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654) was fought. The States General utilised its own red signal flag with a small image of a lion, which is known as the ‘Generality flag’. The much smaller flag in green-white-green stripes on the same stern as the red flag, is the flag of the port city of Rotterdam where the ‘Admiraliteit of the Maeze’ was housed. Because Brielle fell under its jurisdiction and the coastal appearance seems to generally correspond, it is plausible that Brielle is depicted in the background.
Even though Bellevois took pleasure in making the Dutch warship appear majestic by painting it a little larger than true to size and position it ‘en trois quarts’, showing off its beautiful stern and impressive rows of canons, in reality Dutch warships in the mid-17th century were relatively small compared to those of other countries. This was largely due to the shallow waters around the Netherlands. In battle this proved to be a problem. During this First AngloDutch War the Dutch war fleet was no match for England’s larger and more heavily armed ships, and subsequently an extensive and successful fleet-building program was implemented. Little appears to be known about the artistic life of Jacob Bellevois but it is evident that he was much influenced by the work of contemporaries like Simon de Vlieger and Jan Porcellis. Like De Vlieger, Bellevois combined a sobre, monochrome colour pallet and emphasis on atmosphere and weather conditions in the style of pioneer Porcellis, with the detailed and narrative ‘documentary’ style of Dutch seascape of before circa 1625. The water in Bellevois’ seascapes is usually rough and the atmosphere commonly depicted in cool grey and brown tones, distributing the light from dark in the fore- and middle plane to lighter in the distance. Although detailing of the ships, sails and oars is handled with ease it is done true to nature. The artist’s oeuvre can be roughly divided into two categories: in the first, one or more ships with raised sails are depicted along a riverbank with either a familiar or a fantasized townscape in the distance; in the second, ships are seen at rough sea that are stranded on a shallow depth or about to crash against a formidable rocky shore. The current picture is part of this first group.
Sale Galerie Fischer, Zürich, May 1992, lot no 2042;
from a French collection, possibly A. Laroche, Paris;
Sale Drouot, 31 March 1999, no. 27 (as Pieter van de Velde);
with art dealer Rafael Valls, London, 1999, on show at TEFAF, Maastricht;
with art dealer Gebr. Douwes, Amsterdam/London, 2000, on show at TEFAF, Maastricht;
sold to a private collection in The Netherlands.
Rafael Valls, recent acquisitions, London, 2000, cat. no. 5; Ron J.W.M. Brand, “Jacob Adriaensz. Bellevois, Een ‘braaf zee- en stilwaterschilder’ uit Rotterdam”, Rotterdams jaarboekje 2005, 11de reeks, 3de jaargang, pp. 108-145 (127), cat. no. 43 (not illustrated).