For centuries Crete had been in Venetian hands until it was conquered by the Ottoman Turks during the 17th century. Souda Bay is the largest natural harbour of Crete, on its NW coast.The small island of Souda, which was completely fortified, remained Venetian until 1715, when it was also finally conquered by the Turks.
Our painting dates between 1715 (the citadel flies a Turkish flag) and the end of the 1720s (when van de Velde past away).
About Pieter van de Velde I and II
There seems to reign some confusion about 2 Flemish marine painters who both were called Pieter van de Velde or Pieter van Velden:
- the eldest of the two was born in Antwerp in 1634 and he probably died there in 1707. He was influenced by two important Flemish marine painters, the brothers Bonaventura I (Antwerp 1614 – Hoboken 1652) and Jan I Peeters (Antwerp 1624 – 1677 or 1680 Antwerp). The figure staffage in his paintings is sometimes given David Teniers II or to Erasmus Quellinus II;
- the youngest of the two was active until the very end of the 1720-ies. He seems to have undergone the influence of the eldest Pieter van de Velde, might he have been his son? His figures are more naïve, like little puppets, which he must have painted himself.
Both artists painted ships on the North Sea and on the Mediterranean, in general Dutch ships.
Until now, only Jan De Maere ("Illustrated Dictionary of 17th Century Flemish Painters", Brussels 1994, page 407) rightfull mentions a second painter, active in the 18th century. Museums, auction houses and the antique dealers are still attributing all these marine paintings to one and the same painter.
Therefore it would seem safer to us to make a difference between Pieter van de Velde I and II, the Elder and the Younger.
Our painting should then be attributed to Pieter van de Velde the Younger.
About the Venetian history of Crete
The island of Crete has for centuries been one of the strongholds of the Republic of Venice, which dominated large parts of the Eastern Mediterranean. In 1204 Venice bought the island from the Byzantines as part of a complicated political deal which involved among other things, the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade restoring the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus to his throne.
In the 1600s, Venice's power in the Mediterranean was waning, as Turkish, Ottoman power grew.
In 1644, the Christian Knights of Malta attacked an Ottoman convoy on its way from Alexandria to Istanbul. They landed at the capital of Venetian Crete, present-day Heraklion with the booty. The Venetians called both the island and the capital Candia.
The loot included part of the Sultan's harem, returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca. In response Ottoman troops disembarked on Venetian Crete and occupied La Canea (modern Chania) and Rettimo (modern Rethimno). Both of these cities took two months each to conquer. Between 1645 and 1648, the Turks occupied almost all of Crete and prepared to take the capital, Candia.
The Ottomans besieged Candia for 22 years, from 1648 to 1669, the second-longest siege in history. As part of the surrender terms Venice retained possession on Crete of only three fortified small islands that shielded natural harbours: Gramvousa, Spinalonga and our island of Souda.
The Turks took Gramvousa in 1691 and both Spinalonga and Souda in 1715.
Crete remained Turkish until the very end of the 19th century.
About our Venetian Souda Island Castle
Souda is situated on the NW coast of Crete, close to Chania. Souda is the name of the gulf and of the largest of two small islands that lay at the entrance of that gulf. The tiny island next to Souda Island is called Leon. The name Souda is derived from the Latin word sudes meaning "narrow pass". Souda Bay is the largest natural harbour of Crete. It still holds a Nato naval base.
On Souda Island the Venetians built a castle in 1573 to reinforce the defense of the port of Souda and to control the Gulf entrance. The construction works were finished within a year but until the Turkish invasion of Crete in 1645 improvements were regularly made.
After the city of Chania was taken by the Turkish army in 1646 the Souda Island fortress was attacked. However the few armed defenders of fortress were able to save it. After the occupation of Crete’s capital Candia (Heraklion) in 1669 the Turks agreed that the islet was to remain under Venetian rule. After a long siege and heroic resistance that lasted 72 days the Venetians on Souda Island finally surrendered on September 27th 1715 to the Turkish army.
The Venetian castle was an example of excellent fortification work, taking advantage of the islet’s morphology: its walls surrounded the whole area of the island of Souda.
The identification of our island fortress
Jan Peeters I (Antwerp 1624 – 1677 or 1680 Antwerp) was a well-known Flemish marine painter. He painted both domestic and Mediterranean seas. He was also an important draughtsman, whose topographic views were engraved. Several series of engravings with views of Turkish, Greek, Egyptian and North African harbour towns are known.
The University of Liège in Belgium holds a set of six engravings after designs by Jan Peeters with views of Crete: “Insula di Candia del Mare Mediteranea”. They were published in Antwerp at the end of the 17th century. The frontispiece was engraved by Coenrard Lauwers (1632 – 1685), the five town views by Lucas Vorsterman (Zaltbommel 1595 – 1675 Antwerpen): two of Chania, one of Rethymnon and two of Souda. All five measure 10,7 X 26,4 cm each.
Our painter, Pieter van de Velde the Younger, painted this island fortress od Souda on several occasions. I know of at least three paintings holding also Souda Island that were sold at auctions:
- Lempertz Berlin, 16/11/13, Nr. 1262;
- Sotheby’s Amsterdam, 7/05/08, Nr. 57;
- Christie’s London South Ken, 14/12/01, 52.
I also had a fourth version, which I sold in July 2015.
About our painting
The green Turkish flag of Islam is prominently visible on the top of the Souda fortress, two Turkish galleys are moored in front of it. That means that our painting was painted after the fall of the Venetian fortress of Souda on September 27th 1715.
After the fall of Crete the Dutch must have rapidly started doing business with the Turks.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is a very decorative painting that testifies of forgotten wars and trading links in Greece, after it fell under Turkish dominion.