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‘The Nile’ was a famous and crucial British victory (1798) during the French Revolutionary Wars. Nelson found the French fleet at anchor near Alexandria and attacked at night. The climax of the battle came when the French flagship exploded, the dramatic moment portrayed here. Crucially the victory secured British control of the Mediterranean and made a national hero of Nelson. The central image of the burning remnants of the ship echoes the erupting volcano in de Loutherbourg’s ‘Vesuvius’ (displayed nearby). Both deal with the destructive power of nature: the broader devastation and the unseen agonising death of the individual

July 2010