Research Article

DOI :10.26650/iutd.202212   IUP :10.26650/iutd.202212    Full Text (PDF)

From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting

Naz Defne Kut

This study considers the depiction of the Battle of Lepanto in European art history and how it has changed over time. It aims to show how the main focus of the artists has changed from representing the battle as “it was” to propagating the battle as a “legendary victory” in symbolic paintings. Consequently, over the centuries, the weight of the artistic output has shifted from documentary and artistic paintings that attempted to represent the actual battle via historical accuracy to symbolic ones, motivated by the imagined “Lepanto narrative.”

DOI :10.26650/iutd.202212   IUP :10.26650/iutd.202212    Full Text (PDF)

Tasvirden Tahayyüle: Avrupa Resminde İnebahtı Muharebesi

Naz Defne Kut

Bu çalışma, İnebahtı Muharebesi’nin 1571'den günümüze kadar Avrupalı sanatçılar tarafından nasıl resmedildiğini ve yüzyıllar içinde nasıl tarihsel tutarlılıktan uzak sembolik bir anlatıya dönüştüğünü göstermeyi amaçlamaktadır. Çalışmada, İnebahtı Savaşı’nın Avrupa sanat tarihindeki yerini vurgulamak açısından, tarihsel tutarlılık kaygısıyla yapılan ve bilgilendirme amacı taşıyan gravürlerden, İnebahtı’yı bir deniz savaşı şeklinde resmeden deniz sanatı eserlerinden ve dini mesaj verme amacı taşıyan sembolik resimlerden örnekler sunulmakta ve zaman içinde İnebahtı odaklı sanatsal üretimin ağırlık merkezinin, olanı tasvir eden resimlerden tahayyül edilenin resmedildiği sembolik resimlere doğru nasıl değiştiği tartışılmaktadır.


On October 7, 1571, the Mediterranean witnessed one of the most violent and destructive sea battles in its history. The Battle was fought with galleys and galleons belonging to the Ottoman Empire and the major Catholic powers united under the banner of the Holy League. The two fleets encountered one another at the Bay of Lepanto at noon, and in four and a half hours, the Ottoman navy was virtually destroyed. Although eventually the Fourth Ottoman-Venetian War (1570–73) was resolved in favor of the Ottomans, with the Ottoman conquest of Cyprus and Lepanto (İnebahtı, in Turkish) remaining in Ottoman hands, the Holy League’s victory at Lepanto became a symbolic triumph by halting the “unstoppable” Ottoman advancement toward the Western Mediterranean in the 16th century. In European literature and historiography, it became symbolic of the triumph of Catholicism over the “infidel” Ottomans.

Naturally, the Battle immediately became a popular subject among European artists, and in time its influence expanded beyond the geography and time it occurred. Many artists from different periods and places produced commemorative works or paintings even centuries after the Battle took place, using different media of art. Not only the media but also the motives of these productions were various. This paper examines some examples of this artistic heritage, focusing on European engravings, frescoes, and oil-on-canvas paintings over the centuries.

The author primarily analyzes the artworks in accordance to their genres and the motives behind their production. The first group of depictions is titled: “Documentary Representations” and includes maps, engravings, and frescoes made principally with the purpose of documenting the battle as it happened. In these purely descriptive depictions, the chief aim is to document and disseminate the news of the Battle, depicting mostly the formation of the Battle, its ships, and the topography. These versions are mostly produced by 16th century Venetian and Roman engravers with the purpose of passing on the information available at the time about the Battle and therefore serve as avvisi-like broadsheets. The goal was to document the Battle as a contemporary event. Artists such as Antonio Lafreri, Giovanni Francesco Camocio, and Cosimo Bartoli work in consultation with the Battle’s participants, including Marcantonio II Colonna and Monsignor Romegas to represent the actual situations in the Battle. Therefore, their depictions can be considered as essentially actual contemporary representations. However, these avvisi-like broadsheets disappear in later centuries.

The second group consists of “History and Maritime Paintings” and examines the Lepanto theme in the 17th century Northern European artistic movements of the military painting genre. Maritime artists, whose main inspiration was the sea itself and then the naval battles, created a significant number of paintings on the Lepanto, again in a “secular” manner, generally depicting the glorious mariners of the armada of the Holy League and the devastated Ottoman navy among waves in a turbulent sea. From the examples of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age by artists such as Andries Van Eertvelt, Pieter Brünniche, and Johannes Lingelbach, one can observe that the Battle had become a subject for its historical and naval value and served solely artistic purposes. Therefore, although in some of the depictions the effort for accurate portrayal of galleys and topography is apparent, the artistic concerns frequently overcome historical accuracy. Following the artistic fashion, these depictions slowly disappear in the following centuries.

The most enduring theme for the Lepanto art had become the “Symbolic Depictions” dominated by religious propaganda purposes. Considering the fact that the Catholic Church in the 16th century was endeavoring to reestablish its authority and demonstrate its power against all the “infidels,” including the Protestants of the European Reformation and the Muslim Ottomans, in particular, the Holy League’s victory at Lepanto had by then become a significant means to achieve that purpose. In accordance with spirit of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Battle’s paintings depicting the glory of the Holy fleet were very favorably received. Many of the European protagonists of the Battle commissioned paintings to immortalize the victory and these served as means of religious propaganda. These commissions focused almost entirely on religious unity and biblical and divine figures, and gave the impression overall that the Holy League had been able to defeat the Ottomans through their Catholic faith. These symbolic works generally portray some form of divine intervention, sometimes Madonna with Child and sometimes the Madonna of the Rosary appearing on top of the clouds over the Holy fleet, leading the Christians to victory. These “legendary” portrayals of the Battle of Lepanto had mainly Catholic propaganda purposes and played a significant part in strengthening the image of the Church. These symbolic depictions that began appearing immediately after the Battle created a traditional visual narrative which survived until today, beginning with the paintings of Renaissance painters such as Giorgio Vasari, Tiziano Vecellio, Jacopo Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese, and continuing in later centuries with artists from different regions, such as Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Charles Lemiere, and Albino Americo Mazzotta.

Overall, this study aims to show how the Lepanto depictions in European art history changed and developed over the centuries. Among the abundant Lepanto-themed works from different genres in the 16th and the 17th centuries, the documentary representations and examples of maritime art disappeared in the following centuries, leaving the field open for those depictions with a core religious narrative. The symbolic meaning attributed to this Battle in the religiously motivated imaginary depictions created since the 16th century is still alive. As paintings from different genres and eras, and their thematical and iconographical analyses demonstrate, the Battle of Lepanto has always been a popular theme among artists, yet within centuries, the weight of the artistic output shifted from the examples of documentary representations to maritime art pieces and finally to the religiously symbolic versions. 

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Kut, N.D. (2022). From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting. Turkish Journal of History, 0(76), 223-259.


Kut N D. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting. Turkish Journal of History. 2022;0(76):223-259.


Kut, N.D. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting. Turkish Journal of History, [Publisher Location], v. 0, n. 76, p. 223-259, 2022.

Chicago: Author-Date Style

Kut, Naz Defne,. 2022. “From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting.” Turkish Journal of History 0, no. 76: 223-259.

Chicago: Humanities Style

Kut, Naz Defne,. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting.” Turkish Journal of History 0, no. 76 (Feb. 2023): 223-259.

Harvard: Australian Style

Kut, ND 2022, 'From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting', Turkish Journal of History, vol. 0, no. 76, pp. 223-259, viewed 4 Feb. 2023,

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Kut, N.D. (2022) ‘From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting’, Turkish Journal of History, 0(76), pp. 223-259. (4 Feb. 2023).


Kut, Naz Defne,. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting.” Turkish Journal of History, vol. 0, no. 76, 2022, pp. 223-259. [Database Container],


Kut ND. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting. Turkish Journal of History [Internet]. 4 Feb. 2023 [cited 4 Feb. 2023];0(76):223-259. Available from: doi: 10.26650/iutd.202212


Kut, NazDefne. From Representation to Imagination: The Battle of Lepanto in European Painting”. Turkish Journal of History 0/76 (Feb. 2023): 223-259.


Published Online16.03.2022


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