Laureys A. Castro (active circa 1664-1700) The Battle of Lepanto 100 x 158 cm. (39 3/8 x 62¼ in.)

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Lot 135
Laureys A. Castro
(active circa 1664-1700)
The Battle of Lepanto 100 x 158 cm. (39 3/8 x 62¼ in.)
£ 50,000 - 80,000
US$ 65,000 - 100,000

Lot Details
Laureys A. Castro (active circa 1664-1700)
The Battle of Lepanto
signed 'L.a. Castro fec' (on the spar lower right)
oil on canvas
100 x 158 cm. (39 3/8 x 62¼ in.)


    Acquired by the present owner's family before 1880
    and thence by descent

    The century following the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was marked by the inexorable westward expansion of the Ottoman Empire which, by 1553, had conquered Greece, Asia Minor, large areas of the Balkans and most of the Middle East. Then, in the spring of 1570, Sultan Selim II launched an offensive against Cyprus which, after the capture and brutal sacking of Nicosia that August, finally spurred the western nations into action, although the fleet they sent to Cyprus’s aid the same autumn was riven by disagreements amongst the allied commanders and was then dispersed by storms before it could accomplish anything.

    The next year, 1571, under the Pope’s impetus, Spain, Venice and the Papacy pledged 300 ships and 50,000 men for a determined assault on Turkish power which, by September, had materialised into a vast fleet of 208 galleys, 6 galleases, 12 nefs and 50 other craft carrying over 75,000 men. It was the greatest armada in the history of Christendom and ships had been provided by many other nations, including Sicily and Malta, quite apart from the contingent of 116 from Venice alone. Under the supreme command of Don John of Austria, High Admiral of Spain, the combined fleet was blessed by the Papal Nuncio as it sailed out of Messina on 16th September and, three weeks later, arrived off the Curzolari Islands, some 36 miles from Lepanto where the Turkish fleet had put into on 27th September. With an equally huge fleet, the Turks had managed to muster 210 galleys of their own, together with 40 galliots, 20 small craft and, coincidentally, an equivalent 75,000 men thus setting the stage for a sea battle of gigantic proportions.

    The Turkish fleet left Lepanto harbour on 6th October and made its way down the Gulf of Patras towards the open Ionian Sea; when it was sighted early next morning, the news that the Turks were at sea was relayed to Don John who immediately formed three of his squadrons into a central line of battle. Other squadrons were deployed on either flank effectively blockading the passage out to sea and the opening shots were exchanged at about 10.30am. The flanking squadrons came to action first, followed by an early allied success when the commander of the Turkish right was killed, and all the while the two centres approached each other steadily, initially through a bombardment and then grappling and boarding as they met. Shortly before 1.00pm., Don John took the enemy flagship after the Turkish commander-in-chief, Ali Pasha, was killed and, soon afterwards, Turkish resistance began to crumble. By the time the only surviving Turkish squadron commander fled the scene in the late afternoon, with a mere eight ships accompanying him, the battle was effectively over and, by dusk, Don John had brought his own fleet to anchor with surprisingly few losses. In every sense it was a remarkable victory and one which permanently destroyed Ottoman naval power in the Mediterranean. In addition, the battle of Lepanto proved a turning point in the history of sea warfare since this was the last occasion on which opposing fleets of galleys were matched in combat and, thereafter, sail provided the motive power of fighting ships until the steam age dawned three centuries later.

    Amongst several contemporary, or near contemporary, representations of Lepanto is a frequently reproduced Dutch line engraving by L. Cornelisz, after J. Stradanus, of 1590. This is known to have circulated widely in the seventeenth century and could well have been the inspiration for this intriguing retrospective by Laureys A. Castro. Although undated, 1683 would seem a particularly likely candidate for the execution of this work as it was in that year that the Turks laid siege to, but failed to take, Vienna thanks to the efforts of John Sobieski, King of Poland. By relieving Vienna, defeating the Turkish Army and capturing its baggage and supplies, Sobieski succeeded in doing on land what Don John of Austria had done at sea in 1571. It seems quite probable therefore that the general rejoicing after the relief of Vienna provided the raison d’être for this composition which now joins the list of Castro’s known works as only the second retrospective amongst the twenty-six paintings listed by F.B. Cockett in his Early Sea Painters, 1660-1730, pp. 106-07.
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