Visual History of the World




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Visual History of the World
First Empires
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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.



Southeast Asia



Burma and Siam were particularly significant kingdoms between the 16th and 18th centuries. The Portuguese and other Europeans established relations with trade agreements, particularly in Siam. While the French asserted themselves in Annam in the 18th century, the Portuguese were able to control the Malay Archipelago at first—and with it a monopoly on the spice trade—only to gradually lose it to the Dutch in the 17th century. Many South Asian kingdoms experienced a renaissance through trade with the Europeans.


Burma and Siam

The kingdom of Burma was able to temporarily extend its influence to Siam. The Portuguese, and later other European powers, made advantageous trade agreements with Siam (Ayutthaya).


After the fall of the Kingdom of Pagan in 1287, the Shan tribes established a kingdom in Upper Burma.

The Mon, who founded principalities in the ninth and tenth centuries before the arrival of the 1, 2 Burmans, ruled in the south.

1 Burmese rowing boat

2 Elegant man and woman from Annan,
colored wood engraving

In 1531, the Toungoo dynasty from Lower Burma unified the country. King Tabinshwehti subjugated the Mon and, with the aid of Portuguese firearms, conquered central Burma, establishing its capital at Pegu in 1559 and Ava in 1635. By 1559, his successor gained the principalities of the north and the Shan states. The empire was at its zenith and magnificent buildings were erected. In the 17th century, British and Dutch trading companies began establishing bases in the empire. After attacks by the Chinese and Siamese, the Toungoo dynasty fell in 1752.

The Burmese chief Alaungpaya unified 5 Burma (present-day Myanmar) in 1753.

5 The Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Rangun, Burma, altered in 1768-73

His son Hsinbyushin, bringing many scholars to his court, rebuilt Ava as his capital in 1765 and between 1764 and 1767 pushed far into Siam. Burma occupied a large part of Siam by 1785, until the British, attacking from India, brought Siam under its control after the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26).

The Ayutthaya Kingdom in Siam (present-day Thailand), which had existed since the 14th century and stretched over the Malay Peninsula to Malacca, destroyed the Khmer Empire in 1431. King Ramathibodi II in 1516 allowed the Portuguese to set up trading posts. His successor fended off the Burmans, and in 1549 besieged Ayutthaya. The kings had been using European weapons against the Burmese since the 16th century, in exchange for which the Europeans were granted favorable trade agreements with Siam—a trading center for products from China and Japan. Religious tolerance in Siam also allowed for the influence of European culture.

France sent Jesuit missionaries to 3 Buddhist Siam in 1662 and the French East Indian Trading Company came to Ayutthaya in 1680.

3 Buddha, Siamese sculpture in the Ayutthaya style

However, 4 French political intervention proved excessive and in 1688 King Phetracha had them expelled.

4 The French ambassador arrives at the
palace of the Siamese king

Two years later, the Dutch forced the king to grant them a monopoly on the trade in animal skins by blockading the Menam River. After 1700, this trade brought considerable prosperity to Siam. Thai literature and art reached a high point during the reign of King Boromokot.

Starting in 1770, the general Phraya Taksin reconstituted the Kingdom of Siam, and made vassal states of 6 Laos and Cambodia; at his death, the kingdom was as powerful as ever.

In 1782, General Phraya Chakri ascended to the throne as Rama I and founded the Chakri dynasty, which still reigns in Thailand today.

6 That Luang, Buddhist temple near Vientiane, Laos, 1566, reconstructed 1930



Indochina and Indonesia

The French gained influence in Indochina, while the Portuguese and Dutch waged war over the foreign trading posts in the Indonesian Archipelago.


In 1428, Annam in Indochina, under Emperor Le Loi (Le Thai-to), the founder of the Le dynasty, broke away from China. Through efficient administration, Annam under Le Thanh-tong in 1471 occupied the remainder of the Champa Empire. Central power declined during the 16th century, and the country was ruled up to the 17th century by two great families, the Trinh and the Nguyen, who for a long time fended off landing attempts by the Europeans.

France negotiated the first foreign basing rights in the region, with 7 Nguyen Anh in Indochina in 1787, who declared himself Emperor Gia Long in Vietnam in 1802.

7 Nguyen Anh at the age of eight during his
visit to Versailles, 1787

Muslim merchants and the Portuguese fought over influence in Indonesia and the 8 Malay Archipelago.

In 1511, the Portuguese conquered 9 Malacca and made it their main base; from there, they set up trading posts in 10 Java, Ambon, Banda, Ternate, and elsewhere and monopolized the spice trade.

During the 16th century, a major part of formerly Buddhist Indonesian territory-converted to Islam.

The chartering of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 led to bitter fighting. The Dutch established themselves in Jakarta in 1610 and then in 1619 set up Batavia as their administrative center. They seized Malacca from the Portuguese in 1641, Sulawesi (Celebes) in 1666, and finally Ambon and Tcrnatc in 1683 and so controlled the region, but were forced to allow British trade in their regions in 1784. The Dutch East India Company declared bankruptcy in 1798 and was dissolved by the Dutch government, which took over administration of the company's territories.

8 Map of the Malay Archipelago, detail from
a map of the world by Pierre Desceliers, 1550

9 Harbor and capital of Malacca founded by the Snvijayan prince Parameswara,
map of the city as a Portuguese trade base

10 Dutch trading center at the coast of Bantam, Java



The Philippines

By the end of the 15th century, Islam had spread from Borneo and Sulawesi to the Philippines. Magellan reached the island group in 1521 on his voyage around the world and clashed with the inhabitants. The islands were claimed by Spain and named after King Philip II in 1543.

The structures of the local tribal governments were considered "primitive" and the northern islands were soon Christianized and economically developed by Catholic padres following the South American model,
while the southern islands remain Islamic to this day.

Magellan fighting against the natives on the Philippine island of Cebu



Magellan's ship Victoria


One of Magellan's ships circumnavigated the globe, finishing 16 months after the explorer's death.


Magellan's death



Ferdinand Magellan


Portuguese explorer
Portuguese Fernão de Magalhães, Spanish Fernando, or Hernando, de Magallanes

born c. 1480, Sabrosa or Porto?, Port.
died April 27, 1521, Mactan, Philippines

Portuguese navigator and explorer who sailed under the flags of both Portugal (1505–12) and Spain (1519–21). From Spain he sailed around South America, discovering the Strait of Magellan, and across the Pacific. Though he was killed in the Philippines, his ships continued westward to Spain, accomplishing the first circumnavigation of the Earth. The voyage was successfully terminated by the Basque navigator Juan Sebastián del Cano.

Early life
Magellan was the son of Rui de Magalhães and Alda de Mesquita, members of the Portuguese nobility. At an early age he became a page to Queen Leonor in Lisbon. In early 1505 he enlisted in the fleet of Francisco de Almeida, first Portuguese viceroy in the East, whose expedition, sent by King Manuel to check Muslim sea power in Africa and India, left Lisbon on March 25. During a naval engagement at Cannanore on the Malabar Coast of India, Magellan is said by the chronicler Gaspar Correia to have been wounded. Though Correia states that during this early period of his Indian service he acquired considerable knowledge of navigation, little is known of Magellan’s first years in the East until he appears among those sailing in November 1506 with Nuno Vaz Pereira to Sofala on the Mozambique coast, where the Portuguese established a fort.

In 1508 Magellan was back in India, taking part, on February 2–3, 1509, in the great Battle of Diu, which gave the Portuguese supremacy over most of the Indian Ocean. Reaching Cochin in the fleet of Diogo Lopes de Sequeira, he left as one of the men-at-arms for Malacca. Magellan is mentioned as being sent to warn the commander of impending attack by Malays and during the subsequent fighting courageously saved the life of a Portuguese explorer, Francisco Serrão, who later from the Moluccas (Maluku) sent him helpful information about those islands. At a council held at Cochin on October 10, to decide on plans for recapturing Goa, he advised against taking large ships at that season, but the new viceroy, Afonso de Albuquerque, did so, the city falling on November 24; Magellan’s name does not appear among those who fought. There is no conclusive evidence for the theory that during his Indian service he attained the rank of captain.

The Portuguese victories off the eastern coast of Africa and the western coast of India had broken Muslim power in the Indian Ocean, and the purpose of Almeida’s expedition—to wrest from the Arabs the key points of sea trade—was almost accomplished; but without control of Malacca their achievement was incomplete. At the end of June 1511, therefore, a fleet under Albuquerque left for Malacca, which fell after six weeks. This event, in which Magellan took part, was the crowning Portuguese victory in the Orient. Through Malacca passed the wealth of the East to the harbours of the West, and in the command of the Malacca Strait the Portuguese held the key to the seas and ports of Malaysia. It remained to explore the wealth-giving Moluccas, the islands of spice. Accordingly, early in December 1511 they sailed on a voyage of reconnaissance and after reaching Banda returned with spice in 1512. The claim made by some that Magellan went on this voyage rests on unproved statements by Giovanni Battista Ramusio and Leonardo de Argensola, and the want of evidence argues against its acceptance. Even if he did, in truth, reach the Moluccas, a further voyage—which he later commanded from Spain to the Philippines—was required to complete the circle of navigation.

In 1512 Magellan was back in Lisbon; the following year he joined the forces sent against the Moroccan stronghold of Azamor and in a skirmish after its fall sustained a wound that caused him to limp for the rest of his life. Returning to Lisbon in November 1514 he asked King Manuel for a token increase in his pension, signifying a rise in rank. But unfounded reports of irregular conduct on his part after the siege of Azamor had reached the king, who, refusing his request, ordered him back to Morocco. Early in 1516 Magellan renewed his petition; the king, refusing once more, told him he might offer his services elsewhere.

Allegiance to Spain
Magellan therefore went to Spain, reaching Sevilla (Seville) on October 20, 1517. He was joined by the Portuguese cosmographer Rui Faleiro, and together they journeyed to the court at Valladolid. There, having renounced their nationality, the two men offered their services to King Charles I (later, Emperor Charles V). Magalhães henceforward became known by the Spanish version of his name—Fernando de Magallanes.

By decree of a papal bull in 1493, all new territories discovered or that should be discovered east of a line of demarcation (redrawn 1494) were assigned to Portugal, all that lay west to Spain. Magellan and Faleiro now proposed by sailing west to give practical proof of their claim that the Spice Islands lay west of the line of demarcation—that is, within the Spanish, not the Portuguese, hemisphere. On March 22, 1518, their proposal received royal assent; they were appointed joint captains general of an expedition directed to seek an all-Spanish route to the Moluccas. The government of any lands discovered was to be vested in them and their heirs, and they were to receive a one-twentieth share of the net profits from the venture; both were invested with the Order of Santiago. Magellan was convinced that he would lead his ships from the Atlantic to the “Sea of the South” by discovering a strait through Tierra Firme (the South American mainland). This idea did not originate with him; others had sought a passage by which vessels sailing continuously westward would reach the East and thus avoid the Cape of Good Hope, which was controlled by the Portuguese; in the royal agreement Magellan and Faleiro were directed to find “the” strait. The officials entrusted with East Indian affairs were instructed to furnish five ships for the expedition, prepared in Sevilla, where an unsuccessful attempt to wreck the project was made by Portuguese agents. Magellan’s flagship, the Trinidad, had as consorts the San Antonio, Concepción, Victoria, and Santiago. An attack of insanity prevented Faleiro from sailing.

Magellan, who in 1517 had married Beatriz Barbosa, daughter of an important official in Sevilla, said farewell to his wife and infant son Rodrigo before his ships left Sanlúcar de Barrameda on September 20, 1519, carrying about 270 men of various ethnic, racial, and national origins. The fleet reached Tenerife on September 26, sailing on October 3 for Brazil; becalmed off the Guinea coast, it met storms before reaching the line; on November 29 it was 27 leagues southwest of Cape St. Augustine. Rounding Cabo Frio, Magellan entered the Bay of Rio de Janeiro on December 13, then sailing south to the Río de la Plata vainly probed the estuary, seeking the strait. On March 31 he reached Port St. Julian in latitude 49°20′ S, where on Easter day at midnight Spanish captains led a serious mutiny against the Portuguese commander. Magellan with resolution, ruthlessness, and daring quelled it, executing one of the captains and leaving another to his fate ashore when, on August 24, 1520, the fleet left St. Julian.

Discovery of the Strait of Magellan
After reaching the mouth of the Santa Cruz, near which the Santiago, reconnoitring, had been wrecked earlier, Magellan started south again, on October 21 rounding the Cape of the Virgins (Cabo Vírgenes), and at approximately 52°50′ S entered the passage that proved to be the strait of his seeking, later to bear his name. The San Antonio having deserted, only three of his ships reached the western end of the passage; at the news that the ocean had been sighted the iron-willed admiral broke down and cried with joy.

On November 28 the Trinidad, Concepción, and Victoria entered the “Sea of the South,” from their calm crossing later called the Pacific Ocean. Tortured by thirst, stricken by scurvy, feeding on rat-fouled biscuits, finally reduced to eating the leather off the yardarms, the crews, driven first by the Peru Current and throughout the voyage by the relentless determination of Magellan, made the great crossing of the Pacific. Until December 18 they had sailed near the Chilean coast; then Magellan took a course northwestward; not until January 24, 1521, was land sighted, probably Pukapuka in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Crossing the equinoctial line at approximately 158° W on February 13, the voyagers on March 6 made first landfall at Guam in the Marianas, where they obtained fresh food for the first time in 99 days. A Memorial, sent by Magellan to King Charles before leaving Spain, suggests that he knew (probably partly from Serrão’s letters) the approximate position of the Moluccas; in sailing now to the Philippines instead of direct to the Spice Islands, he was doubtless dominated by the idea of early revictualing and the advantage of securing a base before visiting the Moluccas.

Leaving on March 9, Magellan steered west-southwestward to islands later called the Philippines, where at Massava he secured the first alliance in the Pacific for Spain and at Cebú the conversion to Christianity of the ruler and his chief men. Less than two months later, however, Magellan was killed in a fight with natives on Mactan Island.

Circumnavigation of the globe
After Magellan’s death only two of the ships, the Trinidad and Victoria, reached the Moluccas; only one, the Victoria (85 tons), returned to Spain, under command of Cano, originally master on the Concepción and participator in the mutiny at Port St. Julian. For bringing home, on September 8, 1522, the leaking but spice-laden ship, with only 17 other European survivors and 4 Indians, “weaker than men have ever been before,” Cano received from the emperor an augmentation to his coat of arms, a globe with the inscription “Primus circumdedisti me” (“You were the first to encircle me”).

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Magellan’s accomplishment lies in his bold conception and masterly direction of the enterprise that achieved the first circumnavigation of the globe. The first navigator to cross the Pacific from east to west, he disproved the prevailing idea that a mere few days westward sailing from the New World would bring ships to the East Indies. Instead, after a crossing lasting more than three months, he brought a fleet within easy distance of them. Magellan, with a character so complex and of such extreme contradictions, will remain an enigma; psychologically he cannot have been at peace with himself. For his transference of allegiance many writers have denounced him, bearing in mind that in his time the loyalty of a Portuguese to his sovereign was second only to his loyalty to his God; others have pointed out that in offering his services to another ruler Magellan did what Christopher Columbus, Sebastian Cabot, and Amerigo Vespucci had done and that limitations imposed by nationality are irreconcilable with the advancement of knowledge. But on one thing all Portuguese are agreed: “He is ours.”

Mairin Mitchell

Encyclopaedia Britannica




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