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.



North Africa



Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya were fiercely contested during the 16th century. The Ottomans eventually prevailed, yet the local elite was able to win increasing political and cultural freedom and became effectively independent by the 17th century. Morocco had particular difficulties defending itself against Portuguese conquest attempts. Under local dynasties, the land grew in prosperity and stability, but, like the whole of the Maghreb, it drew Europe's colonial interest around 1800.


Algeria and Tunisia in the 16th-18th centuries

The eastern area of the Maghreb was at first fought over by Spain and the Ottomans. The Ottomans were able to uphold their rule for a long time, but the regions won a large degree of autonomy despite their formal suzerainty.


While Syria-Palestine and Egypt had been firmly under the control of the Ottomans since 1517, the coasts of Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia were actively fought over in the 16th century.

In the 1 Mediterranean, the Spanish and the Ottomans competed for both military and commercial supremacy.

1 Naval map of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, 1551

The Barbary pirates, or corsairs, were a constant source of uncertainty as they often changed allegiance and plundered coastal towns.

The most successful of them during this period were the two brothers 2 Khayr ad-Din.

2 The Corsair Khayr ad-Din Barbarossa

Attacks on Spanish galleons by Khayr ad-Din (Barbarossa) provoked Emperor Charles V into occupying 3, 6 Tunis in 1535 and besieging 5 Algiers, the most important centers on the North African coast.

In the long run, it was the Ottomans who— at least nominally—won supremacy over the eastern Maghreb: Cyrenaica in 1521, Tripolitania (Libya) in 1551, Algeria in 1556, and Tunisia in 1574. From 1587 until 1671, Algeria was administered by a Turkish governor (pasha) until the local Janissaries took over rule as deys who were only officially dependent on the sultan; this system lasted until the French occupation of 1830. The Ottoman pasha was also deposed in Tunisia in 1591 in favor of a largely autonomous dey.

3 Liberated Christians in Tunis express
their gratitude to Emperor Charles V

6 Market place in Tunis

5 View of the important coastal city of Algiers
from the sea


4 Muhammad III, Bey of Tunis

In 1640 Hammuda ibn Murad seized power and founded the dynasty of the Muradid beys that stayed in power until 1702; they were followed in 1705 by Husain ibn Ali, whose dynasty of 4 Husainid beys ruled until the declaration of the republic in 1957.

In Tripolitania, the Qaramanli dynasty ruled from 1711 until 1832 as autonomous beys. Their ships' troops were feared as pirates. Even before 1800, this region was being eyed by France as potential colonial territory.



The Siege of Malta

After the Turks captured the headquarters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem on Rhodes in 1522, Emperor Charles V gave the Order the island of Malta in 1530 as a fiefdom. From here they continued to defy the Muslim world.

A Turkish-corsair fleet tried to conquer Malta in 1565, but the Knights of St. John, supported by the Spanish, held the island, despite a four-month siege. The hero of the defensive battle was the order's grand master, Jean Parisot de La Valette.

Turkish forces besiege Malta, May 1565



Morocco under the Wattasids and the Early 'Alawites

The Wattasids and the later dynasties of the Sa'did and 'Alawites defended Morocco's independence. Morocco experienced stability and prosperity under Mawlay Ismail and his successors as a result of its strategic position for trade.


10 Morocco did not come under the rule of the Ottomans, but was forced to defend its independence against Portugal.

10 Moroccan landscape, small settlement with the Atlas Mountain range that stretches across northern Morocco in the background

The Wattasids, who had ruled Morocco since 1472, lost Melilla to the Spanish in 1497 and then Agadirand large expanses of their coastal regions in 1504 to the Portuguese, who then besieged 7 Marrakech in 1515.

7 The capital Marrakeoh, which lies in an oasis where date palms grow

In 1524 the Sa'did dynasty rebelled in southern Morocco, and in 1554 they deposed the last of the Wattasid rulers. Muhammad al-Mahdi, the founder of the Sa'did dynasty, assumed the title of sultan, made an alliance with the Ottomans, and declared himself a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (sharif), and even a
caliph of Islam.

His descendant, 8 Ahmad al-Mansur, crushingly defeated the invading Portuguese under King Sebastian in 1578 at Ksar el-Kebir, and through tight administration led the country to considerable prosperity.

Through the policy of makhzan, a system of awarding land, he was able to make the elite of the country beholden to him. His sons divided the land in two ruling lines that governed Fez (until 1626) and Marrakech (until 1659).

The Sa'did sharifs were followed in 1666 by the 'Alawite dynasty of sharifs, who still rule Morocco today. Mawlay ar-Rashid, the first ruler, established himself in Fez and, in alliance with the Ottomans, conquered Marrakech in 1669 and finally all of Morocco.

His son, 9 Mawlay Ismail, succeeded him in 1672 and was the most important ruling public figure of Maghreb in the 18th century.

Politically shrewd, ostentatious, and violent, he broke the resistance of the local sheiks and religious brotherhoods, created a personal elite corps of 150,000 black slaves, and built the magnificent "imperial city" of Meknes. He maintained trading relations with many European powers.

Everything Mawlay Ismail had gained was at stake in the fratricidal war of his seven sons. However, his grandson, Mawlay Mohammed, was able to restore stability through the reorganization of the administration system, and finances and by fostering the economy through the granting of trade licenses, primarily to France and the United States. His son Mawlay Suleiman continued these policies by easing tariffs for the European powers. After 1810, he changed his originally liberal policy concerning religion and persecuted religious brotherhoods and banned local customs, which led to general unrest. Around 1800 Morocco's prosperity caught the interest of France and Spain.

8 Detail from the Sadier tombs at
Marrakech, built under Sultan
Ahmad al-Mansur

9 The stables in Mawlay Ismail's Meknes



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