Yesterday was the 211th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Shouldn’t we take a moment to remember it? Famously the battle where Admiral Nelson was killed, it is considered by historians to be hugely significant for a different reason –they cite the battle as the defining point in the power of the British Navy that dominated the 19th century world from then on.
As with most topics, once you poke the surface, there are so many directions to go in! For one, there is the fact that Nelson’s ship, H.M.S. Victory, is still a commissioned British Navy vessel, 257 years after she was built. She is the official flagship of the First Sea Lord of the British Navy. Has anyone visited or seen it?
Then, there are all the artistic renderings of the death of Nelson, a dramatic event guaranteed to capture the public’s imagination, as well as that of countless aspiring and established artists. Benjamin West’s painting is probably the most famous, with an epic feel in the lighting and composition.
Accuracy was not important to West, who included portrayals of all sorts of people who weren’t actually there, not to mention that Nelson didn’t die quite so instantly. But the same flaws can be pointed to in most of the other paintings –the one by Devis, for instance, which shows Nelson dying below decks in a glow of unearthly light. They were never intended to be a historical record.
Nelson himself was a fascinating character of our period. It just seems like we should give him a passing nod on this anniversary and consider the impact his life and leadership had on the rest of the century that followed after his death. Hats off!!