Our painting testifies of the growing relationship between England and the Order of Malta during the last quarter of the 17th century, well before 1800, when Malta entered into the British empire until 1964.
Since 1530 galleys of the Order of Malta had controlled maritime connections in this part of the Mediterranean, attacking Barbary pirates and randomly seizing Turkish goods. As the threat of North African corsairs harmed the growing English trade across the Mediterranean English war ships were dispatched to the region during the last decades of the 17th century under King Charles II and James II.
About Laureys A. Castro
Also known as Laureys a Castro or as Lorenzo A. Castro.
Flemish painter of Portuguese origin. His family had probably escaped the Jewish persecution of the Portuguese Inquisition in the early 1600s. Some sources mention that he was of Spanish origin, that is because Portugal fell under the rule of the Spanish monarchy from 1580 to 1640.
Active circa 1664 – 1700.
Marine painter. There is also an excellent portrait known by Castro and he must also have produced genre and religious paintings.
Laureys A. Castro must have been born in Antwerp, where he received his early training, possibly from his father, Sebastian. Sebastian Castro was active as a marine painter in Antwerp circa 1630. The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich holds two of his paintings.
Laureys entered the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in the year 1664-1665 as a wine master, which was a title given to sons of members of that guild who had studied under their father.
He came to work in England and possibly settled here around 1670. He remained here until his death around 1700. He is regarded as one of the leading marine painters in England.
A number of commissions were given to him circa 1670, notably six pictures for the actor-manager William Cartwright. These pictures were among Cartwright’s collection which he bequeathed to Dulwich College on his death in1686, and which formed the nucleus of the Dulwich Picture Gallery, England's first public art gallery - museum, just outside London.
Another record of 1695 of “Lawrence Castro” in Whitecross Street, London, and numerous works by an artist of that name in English collections suggest that he continued working in England.
Castro painted views of Mediterranean ports and imaginary historical and Barbary corsair scenes. He was influenced by Flemish and Dutch masters. His seascapes are painted with a vigour and vividness of colour but some of his battle scenes are surprisingly calm.
He was clearly well travelled and knew a good number of the Mediterranean ports, which he had travelled to before settling in England, such as Lisbon, Genoa, Valetta on Malta and Sicily. Many of his paintings are capriccio views of these ports. He painted only one work with recognizable geographic features: of the Dutch town of Hoorn.
About our painting
Our painting represents a Maltese Hospitaller fighting galley and an English warship. Castro, as one of the only contemporary English, Flemish or Dutch painters, regularly painted Maltese galleys.
In 1530 Emperor Charles V of Spain offered Malta, which was a vassal state of the Spanish viceroy of Sicily, to the originally called Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. This Catholic military order was charged by Papal charter with the care and defence of the Holy Land. Its headquarters, following Muslim successes, moved in the course of time from Jerusalem to Acre, then to Cyprus and finally to Rhodes. Between 1310 and 1522 the Knight of Rhodes successfully fought Barbary pirates, until the island was conquered by the Ottoman, Turkish troops of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Seven years later Pope Clement VII, who was himself a Knight of Malta, convinced Charles V to provide Malta as the Knight’s new headquarters in return for one Maltese Falcon, presented each year on All Saint’s Day to the Viceroy of Sicily.
The Hospitaller Knights of Malta evolved into a sort of Catholic police force, fighting the Crusades at sea against the Muslims, especially against Barbary pirates who operated from the nearby North African coastal towns. The Knights protected Christian merchant ships and tried to free Christian slaves from Barbary ships.
During the 17th century Maltese piracy turned into the Knight’s first goal: any ship carrying Turkish goods, not only ships from infidels, but also Christian ships, could also be stopped and boarded by the Order: its cargo was then confiscated and re-sold at Valetta on Malta. Other Catholic nations, such as France (and Holland) who tried to improve their political and economic relations with The Sublime Porte (the central government of Ottoman Turkey) were not at all amused at this. Crews of the Muslim ships were sold as slaves.
What about the relationship between England and the Hospitaller Order?
Not good: just ten years after having been relocated from Rhodes to Malta the properties of the English branch of the Order were confiscated in 1540 by King Henry VIII (in his effort to dissolve all convents and monasteries).
But Malta’s important strategic position in the Mediterranean, halfway Gilbraltar and Alexandria and midway between Sicily and the North African coastline, became highly appreciated by both English merchant and military ships. Under King Charles II preoccupation grew with Algerian pirates inflicting damage to English traders. The relationship with the Grandmaster of the Order of Malta improved and frigates were dispatched to the region to guard the martitime trade routes. In 1674 a naval expedition started blockading Tripoli, using Malta as its base of operations and communications. This resulted in an agreement between Tripoli and Whitehall.
During the short reign of Charles’s brother and successor, King James II
(1685 – 1688), who was to be the last Catholic King of England, relations with the (very Catholic) Order of Malta were intensified. In 1687 two illegitimate sons of English Kings (Henry FitzJames, the 14-year old son of James II, and Henry FitzRoy, the 24-year old son of James’s brother and predecessor, Charles II) visited Malta. In 1689, one year after James II lost his throne, his natural son Henry FitzJames was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order and Grand Prior of England. He resigned in 1701 and passed away in December 1702.
The Hospitaller rule over Malta ended in 1798 when Napoleon Bonaparte took Malta, following the Grand Master’s refusal to supply the French fleet, on its way to Egypt, with water. Rapidly the French started closing convents and seizing church treasures. The Maltese population rebelled against the French and asked the English Admiral Nelson for help. Following a blockade the French garrison surrendered in 1800. Between 1800 and 1964 Malta was part of the British empire.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it shows a rare subject in both Flemish or English maritime painting: a Maltese fighting galley. The combination with an English Man-of-War can be linked with the growing presence of English ships in the Mediterranean.