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The painting may have been a design for a tapestry, or if not is laid out like one, and is dateable to the years immediately following the event. The composition appears less like a painting than a formal design in a mannered style but no other contemporary image of the Armada conveys a comparable sense of the drama and colour of the confrontation between the two fleets. The emblematic foreground arrangement of a Spanish galleass flanked by two English warships suggests that the picture was intended primarily as a symbol of the Armada campaign as a whole, although it is a symbol edged with satire. The galleass flies the Papal banner and the arms of Spain but her complement includes a number of figures – many portrayed as sinister zealots – led by a preaching monk, and a death's head or skeleton in a jester's costume. This renders her a 'ship of fools'. The quietly humorous anti-Catholic invective is heightened by a representation of a distraught Spaniard – perhaps meant for Phillip II or the Armada's commander, the Duke of Medina Sidonia – in a boat near the stern.
The ships, particularly those in the foreground, are painted with care and some accuracy of detail. Generally the proportions of the hulls, masts and yards are credible for warships of this period. Like many English observers the artist was evidently impressed by the few galleasses in the Spanish fleet.
late 16th C
oil on poplar panel
H 112 x W 143.5 cm