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Circle of John Thomas Serres  - A Royal Navy Seventy-Four Leaving Naples, 1799
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Circle of John Thomas Serres - A Royal Navy Seventy-Four Leaving Naples, 1799

Measurements: Overall: 26cm (10.25in) x 36cm (14.25in)

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Oil on canvas. This setting incorporates one of the most famous Naples landmarks of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the old lighthouse which stood at the elbow of the former Mole (pier) facing the port and Arsenale (naval shipyard) near Castel Nuovo, and looks east out to sea, to Vesuvius and the Sorrentine peninsula. The vessel depicted carries fourteen canon on each of her two gun decks such being consistent with design of a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line. The Red Ensign at the stern is of the pre-1801 variety.

The most renowned Seventy-Four to appear at Naples at this period must surely be Nelson’s Nile flagship H.M.S. Vanguard . If intended to be Vanguard or not, the vessel wears the rectangular red flag at the masthead, indicating the presence on board of a Rear Admiral of the Red - Nelson was a Rear Admiral of the Red from 14 February 1799 until January 1801. It would seem however, that our artist if trying to depict Vanguard was unaware that Nelson could not have been present in Vanguard at Naples between February 1799 to 6 June 1799 (when he transferred his flag to Foudroyant (80-guns)), as the city was under the sway of the short-lived Parthenopean Republic of January to June 1799. Nelson, of course, returned thereafter to mete out the harshest punishments possible on the Neapolitan Jacobins.

Nelson’s attachment to Naples was strong. It was here that he met Emma Hamilton and that he was first fĂȘted after the Nile. His victory of 1 August 1798 was so decisive, so overwhelming, that it was deemed without equal in the annals of modern war. Nelson’s fame resounded through all Europe, and congratulations, honours, and rewards were showered on him. No less spectacular were the celebrations in Naples, where he arrived in battle damaged Vanguard, badly wounded on 22 September 1798. He was greeted on board by the British ambassador and Lady Hamilton, followed shortly afterwards by the King of Naples who called him 'deliverer and preserver'.

Sir William Hamilton insisted that Nelson stay in the Palazzo Sessa to recover; while there, he was fĂȘted by the British and Italians alike as the deliverer of Naples and southern Italy. He remained at the Palazzo most of the next three months, evacuating the Hamiltons and the King and Queen of Naples to Sicily in December 1798 following the invasion of Naples by a formidable French army. However over the next eighteen months while based in Palermo with the Hamiltons, he succumbed to what that he himself termed his ‘Sicilification’ -  which, as he later recognised, had a pernicious influence on his actions in ‘a country of fiddlers and poets, whores and scoundrels’.
 

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