Strategically positioned on the North Sea coast, the city of Ostend was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Eighty Years’ War - the Siege of Ostend - which lasted between 1601 and 1604 under the command of Ambrogio Spinola, and resulted in a combined total of more than 80,000 dead or wounded.
Ostend was the last Dutch-held city in the Southern Netherlands to fall to the Spanish. Norbert Hostyn, in an article in Neptunus in Feb 1983 entitled "De Zee en de kunst: Hendrick van Minderhout" explains the importance of the defensive works depicted here. The Fort Saint Philippe guarded the locks of the canal between Bruges and Ostend. This was the only outlet of the city of Bruges (a major cloth manufacturer) to the sea after the silting up of the Zwin river. The prominent fort is depicted to the left of centre with its supporting 'crown work' in the foreground. These fortifications were strengthened by Don Carlos de Gurres a Borja in 1676.
After this era, Ostend became a thriving harbour and played a particularly crucial role when the Dutch closed off the entrance to the harbour of Antwerp, the Westerschelde, in 1722. When the Southern Netherlands became part of the Austrian Empire in 1714, Charles VI granted the town a trade monopoly with Africa and the Far-East, and the Oostendse Compagnie (the ‘Ostend trade company’) was allowed to found colonies overseas. However, the Oostendse Compagnie was forced to stop its activities in 1727 due to pressures from the Dutch and British, who wanted to wrestle control of international trade.
A very similar panorama of Ostend by the artist, but on a much larger scale, is in the Groeningemuseum, Bruges (inv.nr. 0000.GRO1284.1). This composition was engraved by Gaspard Bouttats in 1675 giving us an approximate date for this group of paintings. A similar and again larger view was also sold at Sothebys from the Estate of Kalef Alaton in January 1992 (lot 135).