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The Cover
October 10, 2012

Lepanto I

JAMA. 2012;308(14):1410. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.3254

In 2001, the American painter Cy Twombly (1928-2011) was invited to contribute a work of art for the Venice Biennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art, to mark the threshold of a new millennium. As his subject, he chose the Battle of Lepanto, a turning point in the history of Venice and its allies that led to a flowering of Western art. The Battle of Lepanto, fought in 1571, was a victory for the Holy League, a naval alliance of Venice, Spain, and the Papal States, over the Ottoman Empire, whose ships were manned with sailors from Greece, Syria, Egypt, and the Barbary Coast. Hundreds of galleys (fast ships with oars as well as sails) were sunk, captured, or burned in the battle, and thousands of sailors, soldiers, and oarsmen were killed, most of them on the Ottoman side. When defeat seemed certain, the surviving galleys of the Ottoman fleet sailed to Constantinople for repairs, leaving the Holy League in firm control of commercial shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Tactically, the Battle of Lepanto was a demonstration of the superiority of shipboard artillery over hand-to-hand fighting; historically, it was the latest in a succession of triumphs of West vs East, dating back to the battles of Actium and Thermopylae. Lepanto re-established the dominance of the culture and commerce of Western Europe in the Mediterranean region for decades to come.