The exact subject of this picture is unclear. Despite the perceptible resemblance of the ensign at the stern of the main warship on the left to the flags of the Holy Roman Empire, it is of Messina, Sicily. As there is no record of any contemporary single-ship action, let alone a major battle, involving the British navy and a ship from Messina, it has been suggested that the scene may record a salute following the Royal Navy's notable defeat of the Spanish Fleet off Cape Passero in August 1718. At the Peace of Utrecht, Spain had reluctantly allowed Sicily to be ceded to Savoy, but was then outraged to learn that the Duke of Savoy, under an agreement with Emperor Charles VI of 1717, was intending to exchange it for Sardinia. Diplomatic pressure having failed, Spain mounted an invasion to recapture the island. A swift campaign secured all but the fortress city of Messina which was held by a garrison of Savoyard troops. The subsequent siege of the city was only lifted following the engagement of a British fleet which, under Admiral Byng, decisively defeated a considerably larger Spanish force. The picture may therefore show Admiral Byng's flagship Barfleur exchanging salutes with a grateful Messinian man-o'-war.