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Nelson’s death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 inspired a cult of hero-worship. This interpretation hovers between the romantic and heroic and adapts a classical reading of an apotheosis, depicting a deified Nelson received into immortality among the gods on Olympus. This is witnessed by grieving men on the deck of a boat, while to the right the Battle of Trafalgar continues to rage. Nelson is making his ascent towards Olympus amidst a blaze of light that provides a contrast with the dark smoke of battle. On the right Neptune, the god of the sea, holds his attribute of a trident as he leans down to support Nelson. Below him a female figure holds long straight trumpets, attributes of Fame, together with a proclamation announcing Nelson's victories and commending him to the gods. Above Neptune, Fame is personified as a female figure holding a crown of stars as a symbol of immortality over Nelson's head. She is traditionally found in the company of the illustrious dead and is associated with historical figures, such as Nelson.
Presiding above them, Jupiter, the supreme ruler of the gods and mortals, sits on his throne. His attribute of an eagle, a symbol of power and victory, hovers behind him. At Nelson's feet an old woman wearing a white headdress represents the three Fates, the determiners of man's destiny. The attributes and figures in the narrative unite to symbolise Nelson's earthly virtues.
oil on canvas
H 63.5 x W 53.5 cm