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.



Spain and Portugal



Voyages of discovery and merchant shipping made Portugal and Spain the leading sea powers of Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Under  Philip II, Spain also became the major force behind the Counter-Reformation. A rapid economic and political decline took place in Portugal after 1580 and in Spain after 1600, accelerated by the often weak and conservative governments. This decline lasted until around 1750, when reforms associated with enlightened absolutism elsewhere were carried out in both countries. In the wake of the French Revolution, both countries fell under Napoleon's control.


Portugal at Its Zenith as a Naval Power

Voyages of discovery, merchant shipping, and a well-run fleet made Portugal the leading sea power at the end of the 15th century. When the reign of the House of Aviz came to an end to be replaced by the Spanish Habsburgs, the country lost its dominant position.


Since the time of Henry the Navigator in the first half of the 15th century, Portuguese explorers had dedicated themselves to finding a sea route around Africa to India and establishing bases on the African coast.

John II (ruled 1481-1495) launched a major fleet-building program, had 7 sea charts drawn up, and outfitted explorers and soldiers.

7 Portuguese map of the world, 1573

In 1487-1488 Bartolomeu Dias sailed to the Cape of Good Hope.

Ten years later, 2 King Manuel I the Fortunate sponsored the expedition of 1 Vasco da Gama, which sailed around Africa and reached the coast of India in May 1498.

2 King Manuel I the Fortunate

1 Vasco da Gama before an Indian sovereign, wood engraving, 19th century


Pedro Alvars Cabral claimed part of today's Brazil for Portugal in 1500, thus securing Portugal's position in South America— confirmed by the papal "division" of the New World between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas signed in 1494.

Manuel centralized the government as an absolute ruler and expelled the Moors and Jews—refugees from Spain—to North Africa in 1496. During his reign, and that of his son John III, Portugal reached its zenith as a maritime power. The Portuguese constructed forts and trading stations along the African and Indian coasts and controlled the spice trade to Europe. Working with certain African tribal chiefs, they transported a great number of slaves for the European markets.

Portuguese 6 caravels ruled the world's seas.

6 Portuguese sailing boat, book illustration, 16th century

Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese viceroy in East India in 1505, and 4 Alfonso de Albuquerque, secured Portuguese dominance in the Indian Ocean and took trading cities such as Goa and Malacca.

Their successors conquered the Moluccas (Spice Islands) and Ceylon.

John's grandson, 5 Sebastian, succeeded him in 1557 and dreamed of a revival of the Crusades.

He invaded North Africa with a large army in 1578 but was defeated by the sultan of Morocco at Ksar el-Kebir. As his body was never found, the Portuguese believed for a long time that he would return victorious, a rumor which several adventurers used to their advantage. His great-uncle, Cardinal Henry, who had already reigned as regent for the young Sebastian, succeeded him as king and had to pay an enormous ransom for the survivors in North Africa. The royal line of Aviz came to an end with the death of Henry in 1580.

4 Afonso de Albuquerque



Afonso de Albuquerque (or d'Albuquerque - disused) ; 1453, Alhandra - Goa, December 16, 1515) was a Portuguese fidalgo, or nobleman, a naval general officer whose military and administrative activities conquered and established the Portuguese colonial empire in the Indian ocean. Generally considered as a world conquest military genius by means of his successful strategy, he was created first Duke of Goa by king Manuel I of Portugal shortly before his death, being the first Portuguese duke not of the royal family, and the first Portuguese title landed overseas. He attempted to close all the Indian ocean naval passages to the Atlantic, Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and to the Pacific, transforming it into a Portuguese Mare Nostrum established over the Turkish power and their Muslim and Hindu allies.


5 Sebastian, King of Portugal



Manuel I

Manuel I

king of Portugal
byname Manuel The Fortunate, Portuguese Manuel O Afortunado

born May 31, 1469, Alcochete, Port.
died December 1521, Lisbon

king of Portugal from 1495 to 1521, whose reign was characterized by religious troubles (all Moors and Jews refusing baptism were expelled), by a policy of clever neutrality in the face of quarrels between France and Spain, and by the continuation of overseas expansion, notably to India and Brazil.

Manuel was fortunate to have reigned at all; he was the ninth child of Dom Fernando, who was the younger brother of Afonso V. Manuel’s father died a year after Manuel was born. King Afonso had one of Manuel’s sisters married to his heir, John II, and another to the powerful Duke of Bragança. On his accession John II had Bragança executed on a charge of treason and later murdered Manuel’s only surviving brother on suspicion of conspiracy. But John extended his protection to the boy Manuel, making him Duke of Beja. On the death of his own legitimate son in 1491, John recognized Manuel as his heir. Although he later contemplated legitimizing his remaining son, Jorge, he finally left the crown to Manuel.

As king (from 1495), Manuel at once pardoned the banished Braganças and restored their confiscated estates. But the monarchy soon acquired vast new wealth as Vasco da Gama’s voyage around Africa opened Portuguese trade with the East. In March 1500 Manuel sent Pedro Álvares Cabral with 13 ships to establish trade relations with the Indian princes. Cabral, sailing in the western Atlantic, sighted Brazil, sent back a ship to report the discovery, and continued around the Cape of Good Hope to India where he set up trading posts (feitorias) at Calicut, Cochin, and Cannanore, all on the Malabar coast of southwestern India. Although half his ships were lost, the venture was profitable. In 1502 da Gama took 20 ships and brought back gold as tribute from East Africa. Manuel was already wealthy by 1503. Meanwhile, João Fernandes Lavrador reached what was probably Labrador in 1499, and Gaspar Côrte-Real discovered Newfoundland in 1500. The Brazilian coast was explored, though trade was virtually confined to the dyewood (brazilwood [Caesalpinia echinata], called pau-brasil in Portuguese) after which Brazil is named.

Manuel’s claims to these newly discovered lands were confirmed by the papacy and recognized by the Spanish, with whom Manuel maintained close relations. His three queens were Spanish. The first was Isabella, eldest daughter of cosovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella and widow of John II’s heir. As a condition of the marriage, Manuel was to expel the Jews, many thousands of whom had been admitted by John II on their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Thus in December 1496 Manuel ordered Jews and free Muslims to quit Portugal within 10 months. On their assembly in Lisbon, every attempt was made to force their conversion. Some were allowed to leave, but the rest were “converted” under the promise that no inquiry should be made into their beliefs for 20 years.

Manuel and Isabella became heirs to the Spanish crowns on her brother’s death. They visited Toledo and Saragossa to receive oaths of allegiance in 1498, but the possibility of the union of the crowns ended when Isabella died in the same year while giving birth to their son Miguel, who died in infancy. In October Manuel married Isabella’s younger sister Maria, by whom he had nine children.

The consolidation of Portuguese influence in the East can be dated from the foundation of the fortress at Cochin in 1503 and its successful defense by Duarte Pacheco Pereira (1504). Manuel sent Dom Francisco de Almeida as the first viceroy of Portuguese India in 1505. Afonso de Albuquerque, who succeeded Almeida as governor, conquered Goa in 1510 and Malacca on the Malay Peninsula in 1511, bringing the distribution of oriental spices under Portuguese control. By 1513 the Portuguese had reached China.

The crusading aspect of the expansion reached its apogee with Albuquerque, who nourished grandiose schemes for blockading the Red Sea and capturing Mecca. Duarte Galvão’s attempts to persuade other European courts to join a crusade met with little response. The arrival of an Abyssinian envoy at Manuel’s court in 1514 suggested an alliance with the Christian negus (king) of that country, and Manuel appointed Galvão ambassador to Abyssinia. But the mission was delayed by Galvão’s death, and the crusading vision faded with the death of Albuquerque off Goa (December 1515). Manuel was no warrior: it was the Duke of Bragança who conquered Azamor in Morocco (1513).

The Indian traffic added enormously to the size and splendour of Manuel’s court. John II had cowed the ambitious nobles. Manuel converted them into a palace aristocracy, paying pensions to some 5,000 persons. Despite the brilliance of his age, Manuel appears in somewhat low relief. Most of the heroes of the day had made their mark under John II. Manuel was industrious, temperate, fond of music and display, and extravagant. He resided chiefly at Lisbon, where he built the waterside palace (near the present-day Terreiro do Paço), and at Sintra. The playwright-goldsmith Gil Vicente wrote for the court, which became a centre of minor poetry and painting. Manuel founded the palace-monastery of the Jerónimos at Belém and built the Tower of Belém; the architecture typical of the reign has been called “Manueline” only since the 19th century.

Under Manuel the public administration was increasingly centralized. A committee of royal officials revised town charters granted by previous rulers, standardized local privileges, and rationalized taxes. In 1515 Manuel ordered his council to revise the code of laws: his Ordenações Manuelinas were issued in 1512 and revised in 1521. The judiciary was enlarged, and royal corregedores were appointed to all districts. This carried forward the process of neo-Roman absolutism and assured the rise of the judicial class. Manuel also excepted the church and the military orders of knighthood from certain obligations. He severely punished those responsible for the massacre of Jews in 1506. Manuel married Eleanor of Austria, sister of the emperor Charles V, in 1518, and had one daughter by this marriage. He died at Lisbon in 1521 and was buried in the Jerónimos monastery.

Harold V. Livermore

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Vasco da Gama

Vasco da Gama

Portuguese navigator
Portuguese Vasco da Gama, 1er conde da Vidigueira

born c. 1460, Sines, Port.
died Dec. 24, 1524, Cochin, India

Portuguese navigator whose voyages to India (1497–99, 1502–03, 1524) opened up the sea route from western Europe to the East by way of the Cape of Good Hope.

Da Gama was the third son of Estêvão da Gama, a minor provincial nobleman who was commander of the fortress of Sines on the coast of Alentejo province in southwestern Portugal. Little is known of his early life. In 1492 King John II of Portugal sent him to the port of Setúbal, south of Lisbon, and to the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost province, to seize French ships in retaliation for French peacetime depredations against Portuguese shipping—a task that da Gama rapidly and effectively performed.

In 1495 King Manuel ascended to the throne. The balance of power between factions at the Portuguese court shifted in favour of friends and patrons of the da Gama family. Simultaneously, a neglected project was revived: to send a Portuguese fleet to India to open the sea route to Asia and to outflank the Muslims, who had hitherto enjoyed a monopoly of trade with India and other eastern states. For unknown reasons, da Gama, who had little relevant experience, was appointed to lead the expedition.

The route followed in Vasco da Gama's first voyage

The first voyage

Da Gama sailed from Lisbon on July 8, 1497, with a fleet of four vessels—two medium-sized three-masted sailing ships, each of about 120 tons, named the “São Gabriel” and the “São Rafael”; a 50-ton caravel, named the “Berrio”; and a 200-ton storeship. With da Gama’s fleet went three interpreters—two Arabic speakers and one who spoke several Bantu dialects. The fleet also carried padrões (stone pillars) to set up as marks of discovery.

Passing the Canary Islands on July 15, the fleet reached São Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands on the 26th, remaining there until August 3. Then, to avoid the currents of the Gulf of Guinea, da Gama undertook a long detour through the South Atlantic before attempting to round the Cape of Good Hope. The fleet reached Santa Helena Bay (in modern South Africa) on November 7. Unfavourable winds and the adverse current delayed the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope until November 22. Three days later da Gama anchored in Mossel Bay, erected a padrão on an island, and ordered the storeship to be broken up. Sailing again on December 8, the fleet reached the coast of Natal on Christmas Day. On Jan. 11, 1498, it anchored for five days near the mouth of a small river between Natal and Mozambique, which they called the Rio do Cobre (Copper River). On January 25, in what is now Mozambique, they reached the Quelimane River, which they called the Rio dos Bons Sinais (the River of Good Omens), and erected another padrão. By this time many of the crews were sick with scurvy; the expedition rested a month while the ships were repaired.

On March 2 the fleet reached the Island of Mozambique, the inhabitants of which believed the Portuguese to be Muslims like themselves. Da Gama learned that they traded with Arab merchants and that four Arab vessels laden with gold, jewels, silver, and spices were then in port; he was also told that Prester John, the long-sought Christian ruler, lived in the interior but held many coastal cities. The Sultan of Mozambique supplied da Gama with two pilots, one of whom deserted when he discovered that the Portuguese were Christians.

The expedition reached Mombasa (now in Kenya) on April 7 and dropped anchor at Malindi (also now in Kenya) on April 14, where a Gujarati pilot who knew the route to Calicut, on the southwest coast of India, was taken aboard. After a 23-day run across the Indian Ocean, the Ghats Mountains of India were sighted, and Calicut was reached on May 20. There da Gama erected a padrão to prove he had reached India. The welcome of the Zamorin, the Hindu ruler, of Calicut (then the most important trading centre of southern India), was dispelled by da Gama’s insignificant gifts and rude behaviour. Da Gama failed to conclude a treaty—partly because of the hostility of Muslim merchants and partly because the trumpery presents and cheap trade goods that he had brought, while suited to the West African trade, were hardly in demand in India. The Portuguese had mistakenly believed the Hindus to be Christians.

After tension increased, da Gama left at the end of August, taking with him five or six Hindus so that King Manuel might learn about their customs. Ignorance and indifference to local knowledge had led da Gama to choose the worst possible time of year for his departure, and he had to sail against the monsoon. He visited Anjidiv Island (near Goa) before sailing for Malindi, which he reached on Jan. 8, 1499, after nearly three months crossing the Arabian Sea. Many of the crew died of scurvy. At Malindi, because of greatly reduced numbers, da Gama ordered the “São Rafael” to be burned; there he also erected a padrão. Mozambique, where he set up his last padrão, was reached on February 1. On March 20 the “São Gabriel” and “Berrio” rounded the Cape together but a month later were parted by a storm; the “Berrio” reached the Tagus River in Portugal on July 10. Da Gama, in the “São Gabriel,” continued to Terceira Island in the Azores, whence he is said to have dispatched his flagship to Lisbon. He himself reached Lisbon on September 9 and made his triumphal entry nine days later, spending the interval mourning his brother Paulo, who had died on Terceira. (Out of da Gama’s original crew of 170, only 55 men had survived.) Manuel I granted da Gama the title of dom, an annual pension of 1,000 cruzados, and estates.

Vasco Da Gama sailed from Portugal to India in 1497 and 1498

The second voyage

To exploit da Gama’s achievement, Manuel I dispatched the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral to Calicut with a fleet of 13 ships. The profits of this expedition were such that a third fleet was soon fitted out in Lisbon. The command of this fleet was given to da Gama, who in January 1502 received the title of admiral. Da Gama commanded 10 ships, which were in turn supported by two flotillas of five ships each, each flotilla being under the command of one of his relations. Sailing in February 1502, the fleet called at the Cape Verdes, reaching the port of Sofala in East Africa on June 14. After calling briefly at Mozambique, the Portuguese expedition sailed to Kilwa, in what is now Tanzania. The ruler of Kilwa, the amīr Ibrāhīm, had been unfriendly to Cabral; da Gama threatened to burn Kilwa if the Amīr did not submit to the Portuguese and swear loyalty to King Manuel, which he then did.

Coasting southern Arabia, da Gama then called at Goa (later the focus of Portuguese power in India) before proceeding to Cannanore, a port in southwestern India to the north of Calicut, where he lay in wait for Arab shipping. After several days an Arab ship arrived with merchandise and between 200 and 400 passengers, including women and children. After seizing the cargo, da Gama is said to have shut up the passengers aboard the captured ship and set it afire, killing all on board. As a consequence, da Gama has been vilified, and Portuguese trading methods have been associated with terror. However, the episode is related only by late and unreliable sources and may be legendary or at least exaggerated.

After da Gama formed an alliance with the ruler of Cannanore, an enemy of the Zamorin, the fleet sailed to Calicut, with the aim of wrecking its trade and punishing the Zamorin for the favour he had shown to Muslim traders. Da Gama bombarded the port and seized and massacred 38 hostages. The Portuguese then sailed south to the port of Cochin, with whose ruler (an enemy of the Zamorin) they formed an alliance. After an invitation to da Gama from the Zamorin had proved to be an attempt to entrap him, the Portuguese had a brief fight with Arab ships off Calicut but put them to full flight. On Feb. 20, 1503, the fleet left Cannanore for Mozambique on the first stage of their return voyage, reaching the Tagus on October 11.

The third voyage

Obscurity surrounds the reception of da Gama on his return by King Manuel. Da Gama seemingly felt himself inadequately recompensed for his pains. Controversy broke out between the Admiral and the Order of São Tiago over the ownership of the town of Sines, which the Admiral had been promised but which the order refused to yield. Da Gama had married a lady of good family, Caterina de Ataíde—perhaps in 1500 after his return from his first voyage—and he then appears to have retired to the town of Évora. He was later granted additional privileges and revenues, and his wife bore him six sons. Until 1505 he continued to advise the King on Indian matters, and he was created count of Vidigueira in 1519. Not until after King Manuel died was he again sent overseas; King John III nominated him in 1524 as Portuguese viceroy in India.

Arriving in Goa in September 1524, da Gama immediately set himself to correct the many administrative abuses that had crept in under his predecessors. Whether from overwork or other causes, he soon fell ill and died in Cochin in December. In 1538 his body was taken back to Portugal.

Eila M.J. Campbell
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Encyclopaedia Britannica






king of Portugal
Portuguese Sebastião
born Jan. 20, 1554, Lisbon, Port.
died Aug. 4, 1578, near Alcazarquivir, Mor.

king of Portugal from 1557, a fanatically religious ruler who lost his life in a crusade against the Muslims in Morocco. After his death, many of his subjects believed that he would return to deliver them from Spanish rule, a messianic faith known as Sebastianism (Sebastianismo).

Sebastian was the posthumous son of John, heir to the Portuguese throne, and succeeded his grandfather, John III, at the age of three. He was austerely educated by Jesuits and, as he grew into manhood, saw himself as Christ’s captain, destined to win victories over the Muslims. Neither his grandmother, Queen Catherine, nor his great-uncle, Cardinal Henry, had much influence over him. He took power in 1568 and devoted himself to his overriding ambition, reversing the policy of John III, which had been to withdraw from costly conquests. In 1578 Sebastian led a large force of Portuguese and international adventurers that landed near Larache and was crushed by a greatly superior Moroccan army. The myth that he survived the battle gave rise to the mystical Sebastianism. Four impostors claimed to be Sebastian between 1584 and 1598.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Portugal up to the Occupation by Napoleon

Neither under the Spanish nor under the House of Braganca did Portugal regain its former importance. Following reforms under Pombal, the country was occupied by Napoleon in 1807.


Since time immemorial, Portugal's rulers had made marriage alliances with the Spanish ruling houses.

Philip II of Spain, an uncle of King Sebastian, rejected claims by related dynasties in 1580 and occupied Portugal, which he absorbed into his empire.

Portugal was further undermined through the weaknesses of the Spanish Habsburgs after 1598. The Dutch replaced their hegemony in the Indian Ocean and seized the Moluccas in 1663 and Ceylon in 1668.

A Portuguese 8 revolt against Spain, supported by England, brought John IV (of the Braganca dynasty, a side branch of the old royal house) to the throne in 1640.

8 Uprising in Lisbon against the Spanish king

In 1654, he drove the Dutch out of the coast of Brazil and permanently secured it as a possession of Portugal. During the reign of John's successor, Portugal sought support from Great Britain against Spain.

The country's economy suffered as a result of mass emigration to Brazil by those seeking to escape the rigidly hierarchical society, in which most of the land 10 was in the hands of the nobility.

Change came in 1750, when Joseph I, an adherent of enlightened absolutism, came to the throne.

His chief minister, the Marques de Pombal, used an earthquake that struck 12 Lisbon in 1755 as an excuse to institute radical changes.

12 Ships entering the port of Lisbon with the central Praca do Comercio
in the background, painting, ca. 1800

10 A typical country estate of the nobility,
in Villa Real in the north of Portugal,
built in the 18th century

He had the city rebuilt, improved its infrastructure, and worked to revive the economy. Between 1761 and 1763, he banned slavery in Portugal.

He expelled the Jesuits, who had led 11 the Inquisition, from the country in 1759-1760 and, Portugal contributed to the order's dissolution in 1773 through pressure on the pope.

11 Heretics being burnt at the stake by Jesuits,
copper engraving, 1723

Pombal cemented a form of enlightened absolutism, reformed the universities, and brought Portugal into line with the more progressive of Europe's regimes.

Joseph's death in 1777 meant the fall of Pombal, because successive rulers again came under the influence of the Church. Since Portugal remained aligned with Great Britain, Napoleon occupied the country in 1807 and expelled the regent John VI, who set up a secondary royal court in Brazil.




The Lisbon Earthquake

On November 1,1755, a massive earthquake and subsequent tidal wave destroyed the city of Lisbon and took the lives of about 6o,ooopeople. The event became a much-discussed subject in Enlightenment Europe.

The optimism of the proponents of the Enlightenment was greatly shaken, and Voltaire wrote a mocking poem in 1756 which he entitled "Poem on the Lisbon Disaster; or, An Examination of the Axiom 'All Is Well.'"



The Lisbon earthquake


The Ruins of Lisbon



Lisbon earthquake of 1755

Portuguese history

series of earthquakes that occurred on the morning of Nov. 1, 1755, causing serious damage to the port city of Lisbon, Port., and killing an estimated 60,000 people in Lisbon alone. Violent shaking demolished large public buildings and about 12,000 dwellings. Because November 1 is All Saints’ Day, a large part of the population was attending mass at the moment the earthquake struck; the churches, unable to withstand the seismic shock, collapsed, killing or injuring thousands of worshippers.

Modern research indicates that the main seismic source was faulting of the seafloor along the tectonic plate boundaries of the mid-Atlantic. The earthquake generated a tsunami that produced waves about 20 feet (6 metres) high at Lisbon and 65 feet (20 metres) high at Cádiz, Spain. The waves traveled westward to Martinique in the Caribbean Sea, a distance of 3,790 miles (6,100 km), in 10 hours and there reached a height of 13 feet (4 metres) above mean sea level. Damage was even reported in Algiers, 685 miles (1,100 km) to the east. The total number of persons killed included those who perished by drowning and in fires that burned throughout Lisbon for about six days following the shock. Depictions of the earthquakes in art and literature continued for centuries, making the “Great Lisbon Earthquake,” as it came to be known, a seminal event in European history. See also fault; plate tectonics; seismic wave.



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