The Burning of a Turkish Frigate depicts a strategic battle scheme used by Greek revolutionary fighters to attack their Turkish oppressors which eventually lead to the liberation of Greece. The tactic of attaching a small boat laden with explosives (known as a fire ship) to the side of a frigate was used by maritime heroes such as Canaris, Papamanolis and Barbatsis. One of the most famous of such ambushes was the destruction of the 'Mansourija'. On the evening of 27 May 1821 the thirty three year old freedom fighter Dimitris Papamanolis sailed his small vessel up to the port side of the frigate and set it ablaze. The devastating fire spread throughout the Turkish ship killing 600 sailors. Another version of this composition was sold at Sotheby's London on 12 May 2005 (lot 10).
Volanakis won renown as the foremost marine painter of the nineteenth century through his masterful representation of ships, detailed recordings of naval battles and sensitive rendering of atmospheric changes. In the present work, through the use of light and colour, Volanakis has presented the ambush to theatrical effect. The billowing flames from the smaller fire ship set against the tilting frigate are dramatized by a swirling cloud of smoke. Volanakis has chosen to set the scene against an almost monochromatic moonlit sky and sea, setting into relief the vibrant reds and yellows of the smoke and flames.
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