Before Jan van Galen travelled by land to Livorno in July 1652, he had the States General assure him ‘that there is no better service to be done nowadays than in and outside the strait’.
At that moment the commander had already been out of service for two years and the eleven stab wounds he had received during a fight with Spanish soldiers in the bay of Cadiz were undermining his constitution. Mindful that a new fleet operation might be his last, he stakes his claim on the highest possible honour.
On 25 October 1651, at the intercession of the “Directie van de Levantse Handel en de Navigatie op de Middellandse Zee” (Directorate of Levant Trade and Navigation in the Mediterranean), a body that was established after the expiry of the 12-year truce to oversee trade in the Mediterranean, fourteen warships were launched to protect Dutch merchants from the increasing aggression of French privateers. The flotilla was provisionally commanded by Joris van Cats. Maarten Harpertsz Tromp would eventually take over the leadership, but the rapidly escalating conflict with England bound him to the North Sea. Since the British were now a greater threat to Dutch
Since the British were now posing a greater threat to Dutch merchant shipping, a hasty decision was made to reach a peace agreement with the French crown.
When Joris van Cats was informed about the changed political situation, well considered the outbreak of the First English Sea War, he found himself in the port of Livorno, where at that moment an English squadron was moored on the south side of the stone pier or “moelie”. The equally inexperienced and incompetent admiral Henry Appleton commanded the fleet of three warships and four richly laden merchantmen. The message from The Hague did not lie: Van Cats was summoned, ‘te beveghten ende aen te randen alle Engelse schepen, waer hy die ook soude vinden’ “to command and surround all English ships, wherever he could find them”. At the request of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinand II, who was anxious to ensure the free port status of Livorno, Van Cats promised to do geen hos- tiliteyt’, “no harm” to the English. However, the Dutch ships did prevent the English fleet from leaving the port with a blockade. Since the squadron under Van Cats clearly had the upper hand, Appleton had no choice but to wait for reinforcements. Reinforcements soon arrived when, on September 6, 1652, a squadron under Captain Richard Badiley sailed from Smyrna near the island of Montecristo.
In the meantime, Jan van Galen had also arrived in Tuscany. After being generously welcomed by the grand duke at the palace in Florence, a team of six white horses took him to the port of Livorno. Two days after the commander had united with his fleet on 3 September, he had four ships watch Appleton’s small force before the roadstead and put to sea himself with the “Jaarsveld” and a retinue of nine ships. Already the next afternoon he caught sight of Admiral Badiley’s fleet beyond the island of Pianosa. Although the latter was clearly outnumbered with three merchantmen and four warships, the ‘Battle of Elba’ on September 8 undecided. Badiley manages to secure his heavily ported fleet in the port of Porte Longone. He does, however, regret the loss of the brand-new ‘Phoenix’, the best-sailed English ship on the Mediterranean, captured by Captain Jacob de Boer.
Van Galen nevertheless showed his anger at the outcome. He had not succeeded in removing the threat of the second English squadron. There is considerable damage to the fleet and he himself does not come out of the battle unscathed. A splinter has hit him on the back and he has been hit by ‘een vervloogen coegel op de bil (a flying bullet in the buttock)’. This last injury is not so bad when you consider it, because there it is ‘dicker vleijs (thicker meat)‘. He fulminates against his lax predecessor who had neglected the maintenance of the ships. Morale among the ship’s personnel declined noticeably, partly due to the irregular payment of monthly stipends, and Van Galen also lost authority with his captains. To make matters worse, the English manage to overpower the ship during a brawl on board the “Phoenix“. The 23-year-old captain Cornelis Tromp is surprised in his sleep and barely escapes the fury of the mutinous English by jumping out of his cabin window. Only after half an hour is he fished out of the water. Although the States General scrupulously kept this last incident a secret – the correspondence on the subject is contained in the “secrete casse” – after this loss of face, Tromp junior will have been all the more encouraged to prove himself.
That opportunity occurs on March 14. Badiley approached with his ships from the south and tried to lure the Dutch fleet out of its position. This would give Appleton’s squadron free rein to leave the harbour and join Badiley’s squadron. With combined forces, the English fleet had a considerable chance of victory. Although fewer in number, with fourteen against sixteen, the English ships are better armed and sailed. Van Galen’s main task, therefore, is to keep both squadrons separated. A feint has the desired effect: Appleton feels free to sail out and goes under sail. Unexpectedly, Van Galen lays high to the wind and plunges with supremacy into his prey.
While the people flocked to the quay to watch the spectacle, Jan van Galen attacked the ‘Bonaventure‘, equipped with 46 pieces, from the ‘Zeven Provinciën’. He promptly hit the ship in the powder room. Doordien d’Engelschman veel vierwerken hadde, en Van Galen schoot met scherp dat met brandende specie becleet was’ vloog dit schip ‘subijtelick in de locht sonder meer mensen te salveren als vijf ’ ”Because the Englishman had a lot of four pieces, and Van Galen shot with a sharp object that was covered with burning mortar’ this ship ‘exploded in the air without saving more people than five’. The first layer of bullets thus immediately claimed the lives of 150 English sailors. The ship ‘Samson’ gets caught between the ‘Moon‘ of Cornelis Tromp on the one hand and a burner on the other. The fire spreads quickly and only 42 of the 130 people on board manage to find a safe haven, most of them on Dutch sloops. After two hours of burning, the ship finally explodes.
Appleton’s admiral’s ship is besieged with enthusiasm and persistently by the ‘Sun‘ led by Captain Bogaert and the ‘Julius Caesar’ under Rooker. The huge ‘Leopard’, armed with 54 pieces, offers fierce resistance. After assistance from Jacob de Boer on the ‘Eendracht‘, Appleton was finally brought to his knees. However, 67 people were killed on the Dutch ships during this action. The ‘Levant Merchant’ surrenders after being attacked successively by the ‘Madonna de la Vigne’ and the ‘Maagd van Enkhuizen’. The ‘Peregrine’ perseveres for quite a long time under the resistance of the three Dutch captains Pieter de Vries, Adriaen Roothaes and Pieter Bontebotter. The ‘Mary’ was the only one to escape under Captain Fisher. He let the ship sail before the wind straight through the fleet line and, without worrying about the fate of his colleagues; he joined Badiley’s squadron. Now that he sees that there is no more honour to be gained, he flees with his nine ships. Cornelis Tromp goes in pursuit with seven ships, but with the onset of darkness he has to abandon his attempt.
By chasing off the English, Van Galen had thus succeeded in ‘sweeping clean’ the Straits, ‘waardoor de Hollantsche niet alleen eeuwige roem verdienen, maar oock meester gheworden zijn van de Middelandtsche Zee, om sonder eenigh peryckel haer Negotie te vervol- gen’, by which the Dutch not only deserve eternal fame, but have also become masters of the Mediterranean, in order to pursue their Negotiations without any peril’. After being welcomed with cheers in Livorno, the commander found shelter in the house of consul Pieter van der Straeten, where he was cared for by the personal physicians and surgeons of the Grand Duke. It was all to no avail. Nine days after the battle Van Galen dies of his injuries. The mortal remains were taken to Amsterdam, where a mausoleum was erected in the new church. Since 1656 a plaque here reads:
Hier leit in t’Graf van Eer den dapperen Van Galen,
Die eerst ging buit op buit Kastiliën afhalen,
En, met een Leeuwenhert, nabij ’t Toskaensche strant,
De Britten heeft verjaegt, verovert en verbrandt.
(Here lies in the Tomb of Honour the valiant Van Galen,
Who first went to take booty upon booty of castles,
And, with a Lion heart, near the Tuscan shore,
Banished, conquered and burned the British.
REINIER NOOMS PAINTED HIS GREAT SEA BATTLE’ WHEN THE SMOKE HAD BARELY CLEARED
Nooms depicts the battle in the heat of the moment. The ship the ‘Zon‘ fires cannons both, to windward and to leeward. Captain Bogaert will soon turn the helm to port to board the English admiral’s ship on the right. Nooms places both admiral ships aboard, both clearly identified by the commander’s flags in the main mast. The spar of the foremast on the ‘Seven Provinces’ is shot through. After a bullet crushed his leg to the knee, Van Galen would sit on a chair and continue to command his ship. Against the background, the wreck of the ‘Bonaventure’ burns out. Nooms exaggerated the contrast somewhat; we count no less than nine ships sailing under the flag of parliament; according to the fleet lists there were six.
It is possible that Nooms produced the painting shortly after the battle and on the basis of summary information. A mention of 1 October 1653 in the inventory of art dealer Pieter van Melder, based on the Nieuwmarkt in Amsterdam, supports this hypothesis. Here, under no. 57, there is mention of een groote seeslagh in een platte lijst, geschildert van Zeeman,’ ‘a large sea battle in a flat frame, painted by Zeeman’. Although the battle of Livorno is rarely the subject of paintings, it is all the more remarkable that two painters who also ventured into this subject, namely Willem van de Velde the Elder and Johannes Lingelbach are listed as debtors in the same will. Did Reinier Nooms inspire them?
REINIER NOOMS CALLED ZEEMAN (1623/4 – 1664), RENOWNED MARINE PAINTER, THE MOST IMPORTANT ETCHER OF SHIPS OF THE GOLDEN AGE
In 1650, with the publication of a series of topographical and maritime etchings, Reinier Nooms laid the foundations for an extensive graphic oeuvre that would grow to 177 sheets in less than five-ten years. The prints published in Paris are, as the title emphasizes, ‘faits apres le naturel’. This striving for a faithful reproduction of reality dominates the entire oeuvre, which further consists of Amsterdam harbour views, Levant views, sea battles and many drawings. Nooms’ etchings are still one of the most important sources for our knowledge of the seventeenth-century ship types.
Nothing is known about Nooms’ origins and young years, yet it has always been assumed that the man who signed his work with “Zeeman” appropriated this right because of a previous running job at sea. The painter settled in Amsterdam in 1652, where he married the sister of printmaker Michiel Mosijn in the following year. They took up residence in the house of the still life and interior painter Nicolaes Outhuys, located on Handboogstraat between Spui and Heiligeweg.
From this marriage two daughters are born, successively Neeltjen and Lisbet. Yet Zeeman does not seem to have taken the principles of marital fidelity very seriously, according to a complaint by Maria Jansdr. Mosijn that has been recorded from the mouth of witnesses. She declares to the detriment of her landlord ‘that the aforesaid Claes Outhuysen was the reason that ‘‘dat de voorsz. Claes Outhuysen oorsaeck was dat haren man Reynier Seeman […] een eerloos en onbehoor- lyck leven leyde, want dat haer man door gemelte Outhuysen dicmaels in hoerhuijsen gebracht wiert, comende dan veeltijts metten voorsz. Outhuijsen des nachts ten twee a drie uyren en later thuijs, […] verclaerde oock dat sy gesien heeft dat Outhuijsen, Ryckert van der Cley, Reynier Zeeman en Dirck Outhuysen in een infaem hoerhuijs saten, namelijck tot d’ Weduwe Spillebouts, synde een oude vrou met 2 dochters, wonende op de hoeck van de heysteegh op d’achter burghwal, want dat sy Maria Seeman stont op de straet en door een ven- ster sach. Maria Seemans verclaert, dat sy nooit een slagh van haer man had gecregen dan tsedert hy metten voorsz. Outhuysen heeft verkeert en gewoont, clagende grotelycx, dat haer man soo door d’ voorsz. Claes Outhuijsen wiert bedorven.’
‘Her husband Reynier Seeman […] lived a disgraceful and unhealthy life, because his husband was brought to the whorehouse often by the aforesaid Outhuysen often into the whorehouse house, coming at home at night at two or three o’clock or later, […] She also declared that she saw Outhuijsen, Ryckert van der Cley, Reynier Zeeman and Dirck Outhuysen in the notorious brothel called the ‘Weduwe Spillemans’, at the corner of the Heysteeg at the Achter Burghwal. She, Maria Seeman, was standing on the street and looked trough the window and saw them there in the house where the widow lives with her two daughters. She stated further more that her husband never hit her until Reynier associated and lived with Outhuijsen and that her husband was depraved by the aforesaid Outhuysen’.
Due to a number of prominent commissions, the painter then manages to escape not poverty, but temporary discipline of the household. In the mid 1650s, Nooms was commissioned by the ‘Directie van de Levantse Handel’ to paint a capital ‘Battle of Livorno’, which was placed as a mantelpiece in the northwest corner room on the second floor of the Amsterdam Town Hall. The mantelpiece is by now in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, a modello for this painting is kept in Greenwich. In 1657 the painter possibly spends some time in Berlin, where Elector Fredrik William I of Brandenburg grants him an allowance of 1000 Thaler.
In 1661 he returned to Amsterdam, because on 26 May of that year he embarked on De Ruyter’s peace mission to four North African cities. The aim was to enforce a guarantee of “free goods – free ships” and to bring about an exchange of favours by raising privateer ships. Commissioned by the Amsterdam Admiralty, Nooms produced views of Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli and Salé on his return, falling back on the many sketches he had made along the way. Shortly before his death, he supplied eighteen more drawings for Laurens van der Hem’s atlas, likewise North African coastal views.
This last commission ensured his artistic legacy; the historian Olfert Dappert made extensive use of this material for his “Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche Gewesten” (Accurate Description of the African Regions) from 1668. Some of Abraham Storck’s Levant views also go back to Reinier Nooms’ drawings.