Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 56 cm x 80 cm
Circa 1780 -85
This painting depicts the flagship galley of Emmanuel de Rohan-Polduc, Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem (more commonly called the knights of Malta). Grand Master from 1775 to 1797, he was the penultimate to head the Order while it was based on the islands of Malta and Gozo. The islands were lost under the rule of his successor to an invading French force commanded by General Napoleon Bonaparte.
The great galley of the Order’s elected head the Prince Grand Master, is seen here moored in Naples’s harbour; the Order’s banners fly throughout the ship. Rohan’s personal banner is suspended from a gilded trumpet held aloft by an angel, who blows a greeting, while in her right hand she holds the crown symbolising the sovereignty of the Order. The Prince Grand Master’s arms also appear on a carved and painted oval shield on the rear deck; standing just below it we are several figures in red frock coats, and perhaps de Rohan himself. On the bow of the ship a platoon of the Order’s marines stands at attention. Several men strip off to dive into the sea near a long boat that pulls away. Alongside the stern of the galley a covered boat holds several figures, probably royal officials coming to greet the Grand Master; according to custom they fly the banner of the visiting ship.
On the left of the painting the Mole lighthouse stands on its rocky islet and in the background a plume of smoke erupts from Mount Vesuvius.
The narrow, plain painted band at the bottom of the canvas was probably intended to have had an inscription – which would have been repeated on any engraving of the painting.