Cornelis de Wael - inv. 24
This animated naval battle between Christians and Turks took place under stormy skies, with dark clouds creating dramatic backlit effects against the patch of limpid blue sky. The greys, pinks and blues of the sea and sky are matched by the brighter, more brilliant colours – white, red, pink, orange – of the figures fighting on board the corsairs, attacking from boats, or in the water. People and ships have been placed along a zig-zag line, marked by planes of light and shade, which deepens and culminates in the central galleon.
The painting is by Cornelis de Wael with the help of an assistant, who was responsible for several figures (for example, those in the foreground on the left). This was standard practice in the organisation of the De Wael brothers’ workshop, where it was common for more than one artist to work on the same painting. Sometimes the work was precisely shared out, with buildings or landscape scenes entrusted to others; at others, the assistant was given only the less important parts, as in the case here.
Together with scenes of military encampments and troops on the move, naval battles make up a very significant part of De Wael’s production; thanks to them he also achieved great fame in Genoa, where he lived and worked for many years before moving to Rome in 1657. A strong influence from Flemish art can be seen in these paintings: in the way the story is told rather like a fable, in the minute description of details and in the expressive liveliness of the small figures peopling these scenes.