Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era

The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



The Ottoman Empire,
The Great Power of the East



The Turkmen tribal group of the Ottomans, based in northwestern Anatolia, pushed steadily westward. After the capture of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Selim I made the Ottoman Empire a major power by 1516-1517 with the conquest of the Near East and large parts of Africa. Under his successors, particularly 1 Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turkish presence became a determining factor in European politics. After several successful advances against the Habsburg Empire, the Ottomans were forced onto the defensive by the Austrians and Russians after 1697. Internal political reforms were slow.

1 Sultan Suleiman the Magnficent's
"tughra," the official seal or
signature of a sultan

The Rise of the Ottomans

The early Ottoman sultans consolidated their power in Anatolia and began the conquest of the Balkans. In 1453, Mehmed II took Constantinople and ended the Byzantine Empire.


2 Osman I, the dynasty founder from whom the name "Ottoman" is derived, led an independent tribal group in northwestern Anatolia around 1300.

2 Osman I with his army commanders,
colored lithograph

The tribe's warriors had dedicated themselves to a jihad against Byzantium. Osman's son Orhan took the title of sultan, made Bursa his capital, and conquered East Anatolia. In 1354, he gained -control of Gallipoli, a foothold in the Crimea, which he then used as a base to begin his conquest of the Balkans. Murad I conquered Bulgaria in 1385-86 and triumphed over the Serbs in 1389 in the Battle of Kosovo, at the Field of the Blackbirds.

During the 14th century, the Ottoman tribal federation became a solid state structure.

The sultans armed their military well and created an elite corps made up of Islamized Balkan Christians—the much-feared 3 Janissaries.

Bayezid I permanently subjugated Bulgaria in 1393, but suffered a crushing defeat near Ankara in 1402 against the Central Asian conqueror Tamerlane. A reorganization of the state interrupted further expansion until Mehmed I brought Asia Minor and a large part of the Balkans under his control again.

The siege of Constantinople began in 1422 under Murad II, who had subjugated all of Anatolia. In 1439 Murad annexed Serbia—which he crushed in 1448 in the second Battle of Kosovo—into his empire, and repelled the last Christian Crusade in 1444 at Varna.

Mehmed II was able to conquer Constantinople on May 29,1453, bringing an end to the Byzantine Empire.

3 Janissary soldier

4 Sultan Mehmed II

He had many churches converted into mosques, including the 5 Hagia Sophia, and built the Topkapi Palace, where the sultans would reside from then on.

5 Interior of the Hagia Sophia, finished in the sixth century, mosque since 1453



Critobulus of lmbros,
History of Mehmed the Conqueror,
15th century, on

The Conquest of Constantinople:

"...but when Sultan Mehmed saw that the Palisade and the rest of the part of the walls (of Constantinople) had been pulled down and was naked of men and without defenders... he immediately called in a loud voice, 'We have the city, my friends, we have her already.

With a small effort and the city is conquered. Do not get weak, but go with courage to the work and prove yourselves brave men and I will be with you.'"

The Ottoman army base
outside Constantinople




The Zenith of the Ottoman Empire

Mehmed II's successor, Selim I, was responsible for making the Ottoman Empire a world power. During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, the empire was at its political and cultural peak.


Mehmed II considered himself the next world conqueror. While he avoided internal unrest by granting Christians and Jews cultural freedom through payment of a poll tax, his forces overran Serbia, Bosnia, and Albania and occupied the last Christian territories in the Peloponnesus in 1458-1462. He annexed Serbia in 1459. The Ottomans soon controlled the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea through the conquest of Trebizond in Asia Minor and the subjugation of the khans of the Crimea in 1475, and then obligated to tribute payments. In 1480 Mehmed landed in southern Italy and was preparing to advance on Rome, the "heart of Christianity," when he died in the spring of 1481.

A time of military inactivity under the pious sultan 6 Bayezid II ended in April 1512 with a coup d'etat by his son, Selim I (the Grim).

At his accession to the throne, Selim proclaimed that he was going to be lord of all civilization and successor to Alexander the Great. He was the creator of the Ottoman world empire.

In 1514 he defeated the Safavid rulers of Persia at 9 Chaldiran, occupied Azerbaijan and East Anatolia, and subjugated Kurdistan, which gave him control of the trade routes to Persia.

The sultan used the Egyptian Mamelukes' call for aid against the Portuguese to occupy Syria in 1516 and seize Egypt in 1517. With that, Selim had doubled the area of the Ottoman Empire. He deposed the last caliph in Cairo, assuming the title himself, and took over the protectorate of the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina. In order to secure the power of the sultan domestically from rivals and to avoid struggles of succession, he introduced the practice of a sultan murdering all of his brothers upon assuming the throne.

Selim's son 7 Suleiman I (the Magnificent) led the Ottoman Empire to cultural grandeur.

6 Sultan Bayezidll

9 Battle against the Persians on the plain
of Chaldiran on the August 23, 1514

7 Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent

He dedicated himself to the modernization of the government, especially the legal and tax systems.

He had magnificent 10 mosques constructed by his brilliant master builder 8 Sinan.

8 The architect Sinan
10 The Suleiman Mosque in Istanbul, 16th century

Suleiman's armies pushed west. In 1521, they took Belgrade, which became their main base in the Balkans in the ensuing period, and they crushed the Hungarians in 1526 at Mohacs.

In 1529, the Ottomans approached 11 Vienna for the first time and besieged the city, but this was unsuccessful and they were forced to withdraw.

The 16th century was marked by the Ottomans' eventful battles against the Habsburgs and Spanish in the Balkans, their control of North Africa, and their domination of the Mediterranean.

11 The Ottomans besiege Vienna under Suleiman I
from September 8 to October 15, 1529



The Time of the Grand Viziers

Suleiman I's successors were generally weak rulers whose grand viziers ruled in their stead. Nevertheless, in 1683 the Ottomans once again stood at the gates of Vienna.


In the middle of the 16th century, Selim II and Murad III ushered in the period of the rule of insignificant sultans with no interest in state affairs. They abandoned themselves to immense luxury and became wrapped up in household intrigues, and the reign of the grand viziers began.

Thanks to Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokollu, the empire remained politically stable even after its defeat at the hands of an allied Christian fleet in the naval Battle of 2 Lepanto in 1571.

2 The naval battle of Lepanto on the 7 Oct 1571

The Turks opened diplomatic and trade relations with England in 1580 and with the Netherlands in 1603.

Caucasia, with 1 Tbilisi and Tabriz, came under Ottoman control in the 1579-1590 war against Persia, but after 1603 they were lost again to Shah Abbas the Great.

1 Triumphant parade of the Ottoman army outside the walls
of Tbilisi in Georgia after the Persians had abandoned the city
in Aug 1578, book illustration

Revolts in Anatolia and Kurdistan provided signs of the internal disintegration of the empire. The Janissaries had become a powerful state within a state.

But in 1622 when they murdered Sultan Osman II, who had attempted to curb their power, his brother Murad IV broke the Janissaries' dominion with barbaric ritual punishment. He was able to subdue the revolts of the Kurds and Druze in Syria, and in 1638 managed to 3 retake Baghdad from the Safavids.

3 The taking of Baghdad by the Ottomans

During this period, many Albanians and Bosnians and a portion of the Bulgarians in the Balkans converted to Islam.

From the middle of the 17th century, the governance of the empire was in the hands of the Albanian Koprulu family of grand viziers, who proclaimed a war on corruption and strengthened the central authority. They were also able to snatch Crete from the Venetians in 1669 and Podolia from the Poles in 1672.

The ambitious 4 Kara Mustafa became grand vizier in 1676 and marched his troops through Hungary.

4 The Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa

In 1683, he besieged Vienna, but the combined armies and their Polish allies defeated the Turks at the 5 Kahlenberg heights and drove them back; Charles V of Lorraine and Louis William of Baden-Baden then pushed the Ottomans out of 6 Hungary.

In 1687, the Venetians occupied parts of the Peloponnesus, including Athens. A return to rule of the Koprulu grand viziers did not end Turkish losses in the Balkans.

5 The Battle of Kahlenberg Heights, Sept. 1 2, 1683

Austrian imperial troops attack an Ottoman army base



The Empire between Decline and Reform

The Ottoman Empire was forced onto the defensive in the Balkans through the victories of Prince Eugene of Savoy and pressure from Russia. Necessary internal reforms were late in coming and strongly opposed.


Defeated by the Austrian general Eugene of Savoy in 1697 at Zenta, the Ottoman empire lost Hungary, Transylvania, and Slavonia to Austria, Podolia to Poland, and the Peloponnesus and parts of Dalmatia to Venice under provisions of the Treaty of Carlowitz; in 1700 Azov went to Russia.

When Sultan 8 Ahmed III granted asylum to Charles XII of Sweden in 1709, he provoked a war with Russia in 1710-1711, which the Ottomans won.


8 Sultan Ahmed III in one of the courts
of the Topkapi Palace, painting, 18th ń

Ahmed III
Ottoman sultan

born Dec. 30, 1673, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire
died July 1, 1736, Constantinople [now Istanbul], Turkey

sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1703 to 1730.

The son of Mehmed IV, he succeeded to the throne in 1703 upon the deposition of his brother Mustafa II. Ahmed III cultivated good relations with England and France and afforded refuge at his court to Charles XII of Sweden after his defeat by Peter I the Great of Russia at the Battle of Poltava (1709). Ahmed declared war on Russia in 1710 and came nearer than any other Turkish sovereign to breaking that country’s power. His grand vizier, Baltaji Mehmed Pasha, encircled Peter’s army near the Prut River in July 1711, and Russia had to agree to restore the town of Azov to Turkey, to destroy the Azovian forts, and to abstain from interference in Polish or Cossack affairs. (Turkish discontent at the leniency of these terms nearly brought on a renewal of the war in late 1712.) In 1715 Ahmed directed the capture of the Morea (Peloponnesus) from the Venetians, but when Austria intervened, the Turks suffered reverses, losing Belgrade in 1717. Under the Treaty of Passarowitz (1718), which Ahmed made, Turkey retained its conquests from the Venetians but ceded Hungary and part of Serbia to Austria.

In 1724 Turkey and Russia reached an agreement to partition much of Iran between them. The Iranians drove the Turks out of Iran in 1729–30, however, and news of this defeat sparked a popular uprising in Turkey led by Patrona Halil in which Ahmed was deposed. He died in captivity in 1736.

Ahmed’s reign is sometimes known as the Tulip Age (Lâle Devri) because of the popularity of that flower in Constantinople in the early 18th century. With Ahmed’s encouragement, art and literature flourished during this time.

In 1717, however, 7, 9 Belgrade was lost to the Austrian Empire, which by the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718 also took the Banat, northern Serbia, and Little Walachia.

7 The Ottomans hand over Belgrade
to the Austrians in 1717

9 The Battle for Belgrade, center Prince Eugene of Savoy, August 18, 1717
by Johann Gottfried Auerbach

These military failures led to the overthrow of Ahmed III in 1730 and a renewed reign of the Janissary corps, which retook northern Serbia and Little Walachia in 1736-1739. While a military pact was made with Austria, Russia with its expansionist ambitions had become the major enemy of the Ottoman Empire by 1741. An alliance between the Ottomans and Prussia in 1761 ushered in cordial relations that continued up to World War I. The Russians advanced into Moldavia and Transcaucasia during the First Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) and in 1770 destroyed the Turkish fleet.

In 1774-1783, the Ottomans lost 10 Crimea to Russia and Bukovina to Austria. Catherine the Great of Russia then usurped the protectorate over the Christian princes Georgia in 1784.

The Turks once again went to war in 1787-1792 against Russia and Austria. Russia made further territorial gains and replaced the Ottoman Empire as the dominant power in the Black Sea region.

10 The Russian deputy sovereign visits the Grand Vizier in 1775 for negotiations



The Tulip Era

The short period between 1718 and 1730 during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III is referred to as the Tulip Era. Following the Treaty of Passarowitz, Ottoman interest in the European baroque culture grew, as did Western interest in the Orient.

During the Tulip era in Turkey there was an a cultural blossoming of the arts. The tulip, an extremely popular and—as tulip bulbs could be sold for their weight in gold—valuable export from Turkey, became a symbol for the era.

Example of the famous ceramic tiles produced
in Iznik, Turkey, with tulip, carnation, and rosette motif





The Harem

The wives of the sultan, his concubines, and the countless servant girls who served them lived in the harem, closed off from the outside world and guarded over by eunuchs.

At the head of the harem was the powerful mother of the sultan, with whom the women who had borne the sultan sons vied for power. The sultans' sons were also raised here in this "gilded cage."

It was no wonder that many of them were blind to reality or even psychologically disturbedwhen they finally came to power.

Members of the sultan's harem play a game,
painting, Francesco Guardi, 18th ń

see collection:

The Harem





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