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Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp (1598–1653)

P.2658-R This is a portrait of the Dutch Lieutenant Admiral Maarten Tromp, engraved by Crispijn de Passe the Younger to commemorate the admiral’s role in the battle against Spain on 21 October 1639. It was a crucial victory for the Dutch, as it effectively destroyed Spain’s sea power and signalled the beginning of the end of Spanish supremacy over the Low Countries. The battle was considered such a triumph not only because the Dutch fleet was so much smaller than Spain’s, but also because Tromp far out-manoeuvred the admiral in command of the Spanish vessels, a Portuguese man called Antonio de Oquendo.

The Spanish fleet comprised 40-50 men-of-war as well as a large number of merchant ships, all carrying a precious cargo. Oquendo had been charged with the transportation of thousands of Spanish troops to Dunkirk, the usual land routes being blocked by France. In the middle of September 1639 Spain’s passage was intercepted by Tromp’s squadron near the Strait of Dover off the English coast. Oquendo’s fleet far outsized Tromp’s, even after the arrival of reinforcements headed by Vice-Admiral Witte de With (23.I.11-240). Nonetheless, the Dutch were able to inflict serious damage due to the fact that the Spanish ships were overcrowded and not in the right state for battle. The Spanish fleet withdrew towards the Downs (Duyns in Dutch), in the hope that the English waters would provide protection. The English wanted to exercise sovereignty in this area (part of their territory of the Narrow Seas), but in reality there was very little they could do. The English fleet, commanded by John Penington (or Pennington P.2164-R), was too small. Pennington made pretence of protecting the Spanish while not actually exposing his ships to danger. The English captured two Dutch vessels, but Pennington recommended to his captains that they should be released as the action would provoke the Dutch.

Only a fraction of the Spanish fleet made it to their destination: the rest of the ships were burned and completely destroyed. Death-toll figures vary, but the number was certainly in the thousands. The Dutch, on the other hand, lost only one ship and far fewer men. Oquendo escaped but was heavily wounded and died soon after his return to Spain. This crushing defeat helped pave the way towards the Peace of Westphalia in Munster in 1648. Tromp’s legendary status was rewarded by knighthoods – first by Louis XIII of France in 1640, and then by Charles I two years later.

In this print, above a title calling him “The Noble Brave Hero”, Tromp’s half-length figure stands out against a dark background. He holds a military baton, a customary prop for men of his profession and rank. The other elements in the composition add to the impact of the portrait: Tromp’s figure is framed within an arc of medallions, each of which contain etched representations of the ships under his command in the battle of 1639. The illustration in the cartouche above his head is labelled Occupation of the Spanish Fleet in Duyns, and lower down is larger sheet-like cartouche depicting the destruction of the Spanish fleet. In the background is the English coast labelled Doveren and Waumore cast (Dover and Walmer Castle). Cowering below Tromp either side of the sheet are two small male figures: the man on the left, labelled Sotto Major, appears to be Don Francisco Feijo de Sotomayor of the Santiago, commander of one of the Spanish ships. On the right is Oquendo, implicitly referred to by the lettering Aen Ad. van Portugal.

The engraver was the eldest son of Crispijn de Passe the elder, who, quite apart from his activities in Belgium and Germany, was one of the most important figures in the early history of print production in Britain (November 2007 portrait of the month). Unlike his father and younger brothers Simon and Willem, Crispijn did not come to London. Perhaps encouraged by his father or wanting to strike out on his own he moved to Paris and engraved portraits, history prints, title plates and book illustrations, which were issued by various publishers in Paris and Lyon. Around 1629/30 Crispijn moved to Utrecht, and at the end of 1639 he moved to Amsterdam and branched out into journalism, making engravings for illustrated pamphlets and broadsheets. The date of his move to the city coincided with the battle of the Dover Downs, so this portrait print and another plate Crispijn engraved for a broadsheet giving a detailed account of the battle in French and Dutch, must have been two of his first projects. In the plate for the broadsheet, the events of the battle, which are merely summarised in the cartouches of this portrait, are keyed with the letters A-Z. It is documented that Crispijn knew Tromp personally, and that the admiral posed for Crispijn not long after the battle. This portrait print is sometimes found printed on a sheet with letterpress of a title and 28 lines of verse.

The Fitzwilliam holds another portrait print of Tromp by Jacobus Houbracken P.5862-R-12 as well as its preparatory drawing by Aert Schouman 4119

Click here to see portraits of Tromp’s son, Cornelis, who was also an admiral in the Dutch navy P.8632-R P.9841-R

Museum Number: P.2658-R