The tapestry of the battle of Lepanto

There was no military event in all the XVI century and in all the Mediterranean, more celebrated than the Battle of Lepanto. The victory of the Christian fleet on the Turkish one took place on October 7th 1571, crowning the success of the Sacred League established the same year between Spain Papacy and Venice. The beautiful tapestry of this series dedicated to the Battle of Lepanto were drawn in 1581-82 from Lazzaro Calvi and Luca Cambiaso, the major exponent of the Genoese painting in second half of the XV century. The purchaser was the successor of Andrea Doria, Giovanni Andrea Doria the I, who had actually taken part to the Battle of Lepanto, guiding the left wing of the Christian’s fleet. The tapestry were realized in Bruxelles and brought to Genoa, were they still are displayed, in 1591.

I) The Departure from Messina

Inscription: SACRI FOEDERIS CLASSIS DUCTU IO. AUSTRIACI MESSANA SOLVIT (The Holy League’s fleet departs from Messina under the lead of John of Austria). On September 16, 1571, the Christian fleet, consisting of 207 galleys, 6 galleasses and 30 supporting ships, departs from Messina. It is commanded by the natural son of Emperor Charles V, Don John of Austria.
II) The Navigation along the Calabrian Coastline

Inscription: QUADRIPARTITO AGMINE ORAM BRUTIORUM LEGIT ([The fleet], arrayed in a four line formation, sails along the Bruzi’s shores [Calabria’s coastline]). Looking for battle with the Turks, the Holy League’s fleet heads for the Strait of Otranto, reaches Corfu (September 26) and then stops along Epirus’s shores. From here, it reaches the Gulf of Patras, bordered by the Curzolari Islands in the north, east of which lies the bottleneck of Lepanto.
III) The Line-Up of the Fleets

Inscription: TURCARUM CLASSI AD ECHINADES OBVIAM FIT AMBAEQUE AD PUGNAM INSTRUCTAE PROELIUM LACESSUNT ([The Christian fleet] meets the Turkish one near the Echinades [Curzolari Islands] and both fleets, in battle formation, begin the fight). The Holy League’s fleet centre is made up of the group of galleys under Don John of Austria. The left wing is under the command of Venetian Agostino Barbarigo, while the right wing is under the lead of Giovanni Andrea Doria. The rearguard galleys are commanded by Alvaro Bazan, marquis of Santa Cruz.

IV) The Battle

Inscription: DIV UTRINQUE AC FORTITER PUGNANTUR TANDEM FOEDERATORUM CLASSIS SUPERIOR EVADIT (Both sides battle long and valorously and eventually the League’s fleet comes off victorious). The battle is extremely bloody, with a death and injury toll amounting to tens of thousands. The Turkish galleys suffer the Christian artillery’s firepower superiority, the galleasses’ cannons are especially effective.
V) The Christian Victory and the Flight of Seven Turkish Galleys

Inscription: TURCARUM MAXIMA STRAGES EDITUR ET SUPERVENIENTIS NOCTIS AUXILIO VIX SEPTEM TRIREMES EX UNIVERSA EORUM CLASSE INCOLUMES EFFUGIUNT (The Turkish fleet suffers enormous losses and only seven galleys out of the entire fleet manage to escape unscathed, aided by the falling of the night). Buccaneer Euldj-Ali manages to lead seven galleys to safety, as depicted in the right bottom section of the tapestry. Before clearing an escape route, however, he had managed to severely damage some of the enemy galleys, following Giovanni Andrea Doria’s decision to extend south, so leaving a gap in the Christian crescent formation.

VI) The Return of the Fleet to Corfu

Iscrizione: CORCYRE PORTUM VICTRIX CLASSIS INGREDITUR CXXX TRIREMES CAPTAS REMULCO TRAHENS RELIQUIS FRACTIS ET SUBMERSIS (The winning fleet enters the port of Corcyra [Corfu], towing one hundred and thirty galleys, after destroying and sinking the others). Approximately one hundred and fifty Turkish vessels were destroyed in the battle or set alight; one hundred and thirty were towed to Corfu with stern cables by the Christian galleys, an event which is accurately illustrated in the tapestry.