This picture depicts the final moments of resistance aboard the Ottoman flagship Sultana at the closing stages of the Battle of Lepanto between the Ottoman Empire and the Catholic Holy League, which included Venice, Spain, and the Papacy. The last major engagement between oar-powered galleys in history, this Mediterranean encounter was to be a defeat for the Ottomans and a boost to European Christian morale, but its strategic significance was short-lived; the Holy League quickly fell into disunity, Protestant rebels continued to clash with Catholic Europe, and the Ottomans, although bruised by defeat, remained a significant presence in and around the Mediterranean.
At around 1.00pm, the Ottoman commander Ali Pasha (1522-71), having directly engaged the enemy flagship La Real, was killed while repulsing a boarding action; he is depicted here wearing a long buttoned coat and turban typical of many senior Ottoman leaders, and protected by elite Janissary troops. Accounts of the battle are unclear about what exactly happened to Ali Pasha; either wounded or killed by a musket shot to the head or simply cut down, along with his men, by the surge of troops making their way over the bows of the Sultana. Contemporary accounts also maintain that Ali Pasha was beheaded and then brought before the Holy League’s commander, Don Juan of Austria, who either had his head mounted on a pike or was disgusted by the grim treatment shown to his adversary. However the unfortunate fate of Ali Pasha played out during the assault on the Sultana, what can be said for certain is that his death was a severe blow to Ottoman morale and a sure sign of victory for the Holy League.
By Ibrahim Zamir