The present painting is the key work of Hans Savery the Elder and by far the largest. Not more than a handful of his signed works is known, together with a few attributed pictures. Only works attributed to him can be found in museums in the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a painting attributed to Hans Savery the Elder, depicting a whale that has been washed up on the coast of Noordwijk (inv. no. A 2526). The Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam has another attributed work on display, a painting depicting ships in a storm (coll. Van der Vorm). Savery’s colouring, easily recognised, and the rhythmic sweep of the waves, so characteristic of his work, both play a role in attribution. In the event the present painting is fully signed and by far the most important source of material for comparison.
The present painting clearly shows that he worked as a mannerist marine painter in the tradition of Pieter Brueghel the Elder. In fact, Hans Savery the Elder seems to be the missing link between that famous Flemish artist of the second half of the sixteenth century and the great Haarlem marine artists of the beginning of the seventeenth century, such as Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom, Cornelis Verbeeck and Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen.
The painting depicts in the foreground and in the background a great number of beautifully painted ships on a stormy sea, approximately 25 in all. Many seamen are working the sails and the rigging. There are signs of panic everywhere, e.g. on the ship on the extreme right of the painting, the sails are strewn all over the deck.
Two sea monsters are visible, one in the left foreground, the other on the right. Bales and barrels are floating around in the centre. The movement of the large waves is very reminiscent of those painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and by Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom. Not for nothing is there a drawing of ships in a storm in the collection of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum (inv. no. H. Savery-I) that has traditionally been ascribed to Hans Savery the Elder. It was not attributed to Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom until the nineteen-seventies.