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The scene in the cockpit of 'Victory' during the Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805. The narrative combines the portraiture of the principal figures with an enhanced history painting and shows Lord Nelson's dying moments. He lies propped on pillows, with his shirt ripped open and he draped in a white sheet. The artist evokes neo-classical funerary statuary through his emphasis on Nelson's pallor.
Painted two years after the event, this complex painting concentrates on the human response of the men involved in this event. The drama draws on the narrative of Renaissance religious imagery, evoking a pieta, or lamentation, with the dying Nelson laid out on the deck. Using Christian imagery, the artist invites such comparison by, for example, showing blood on Nelson and replacing the base of the cross with a stanchion, thus elevating the scene to that of Christ. Nelson is bathed in a golden light in contrast with the gloom of the rest of the deck. The scene intentionally concentrates on the tragedy of the moment to evoke a response from the viewer.
National Maritime Museum
The Death of Lord Nelson in the Cockpit of the Ship 'Victory'
oil on canvas
H 88.5 x W 73 cm
National Maritime Museum (Greenwich Hospital Collection)