Quarrels and accommodations
Over time, even the Venetian colonists in Crete became alienated by the requirements laid on them by their appointed rulers, chiefly in the form of taxes. Their resentment reached such a point that they began to harbor rebellious sentiments of their own. By the middle of the 14th century the Republic could no longer regard a Cretan uprising as an exclusively Greek affair. “Blood of their blood, bone of their bone” or not, Venice’s own sons and daughters were willing to make common cause with the dispossessed Greeks in throwing off the colonial yoke. This wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did.
Venetian war flag
The most serious challenge to Venetian authority arose in 1363. Venice announced a new tax for the purpose of maintaining and cleaning the harbor of Candia. The citizens of Crete (like those of other Venetian colonies) were already subject to a host of taxes. Houses, lands, and animals were taxed directly, and there were also taxes on the sale or export of wine, oil, salt, fish, cheese, skins, or iron; taxes on mooring ships; taxes on transporting wine even within Crete. Ad-hoc taxes were also levied to pay for various public needs as they arose. The harbor tax was one of these, and was just one too many in the opinion of Candia’s leading citizens, who saw it as benefiting the merchants of Venice rather than themselves. They asked the Duke of Crete to let them appeal to the Doge and Senate, but he ordered them to pay up or face execution and the confiscation of their property. In response, he was besieged in his palace by an angry mob, which he tried to face down in person, and was thrown into prison.
Icon of St. Títos, companion of Paul and first bishop of Crete
The protesters had been gathering in the cathedral church of St. Titus, and when they decided to declare independence, they put his image on their new flag. The full official name of Venice was “The Most Serene Republic of Saint Mark,” and that evangelist’s traditional symbol, the lion, was emblazoned on its flag and carved on most public buildings. On the wartime version of the flag, shown above, the lion brandished a sword; in more peaceful times he held out a book displaying the inscription (in Latin) “Peace to thee, Mark, my evangelist.” The Cretans apparently felt that their rebellion was, in a sense, a transfer of allegiance from one saint to the other. No picture of their flag seems to have made it onto the Internet, but Saint Títos’ image probably resembled this more modern icon.

The rebellion spread until it engulfed the whole island. When word of this arrived in Venice, the authorities were gobsmacked. The doge sent an embassy, urging his straying children to return to their former loving obedience, but, when this was predictably rejected, and the ambassadors returned with tales of a perilous escape from hostile mobs, the Republic prepared for war. It took the Venetians months to organize a fleet—one reason being a recent decline in population because of the Black Death—but in the meantime they succeeded in subjecting Crete to a trading embargo, requesting all other nations to avoid sending ships to Cretan ports, and even to refrain from purchasing Cretan goods already in their markets.

In Crete during this time support for the movement began to fragment. It was not just the embargo: more conservative members of the Venetian upper class were put off by some of the measures that the rebel leaders had taken, such as releasing criminals from prison in exchange for a promise of six months’ military service. There was also fear—not altogether unfounded—that some Greeks who had joined the cause would be happy to kill all Venetians, even the ones on their own side, should they get the chance. A peasants’ revolt was something no aristocrat wanted to face.
Da Vinci's 'Capitano Antico,' aka 'Il Condottiero'
In the spring of 1364, the Venetian fleet descended on the island, carrying a mercenary army under Lucchino dal Verme, a Veronese commander hired for the occasion. He was a condottiero (which, though cognate with conductor, actually meant ‘contractor’), one of many who earned their living in the constant Italian wars of that era. Though none of Italy’s city-states had standing armies, many could afford to hire military professionals when the need arose. This drawing doesn’t show Dal Verme, or any other known condottiero. It was made a century later by Leonardo da Vinci, who seems to have called it “capitano antico,” [‘officer in ancient times’] and whether there was any single living model is unknown—but the fact that later generations decided to refer to it as Il Condottiero says something about the popular image of the gentlemen who took up this line of work.

Dal Verme’s army was mainly but not entirely Italian; it included Englishmen, Bohemian mining engineers (very useful in siege warfare), and Turkish cavalry. This highly professional force took very little time to squelch the Revolt of St. Titus, and Venice was not merciful to the rebel leaders.
Door of a Venetian house in Rethymno
The Most Serene Republic managed to hold onto Crete and keep its economy flourishing for two more centuries, well into the 1500s. Despite the severity with which the revolt of 1363 had been put down, it (plus a few minor disturbances in later years) seems to have brought about a general loosening of authority, and as a result Crete relaxed and prospered. The prosperous classes increasingly included Greeks as well as Venetians, and the intellectual and artistic influence of the Italian Renaissance was felt on the island. (The picture shows the door of a house in Rethymno.)
Icon painted by Doménikos Theotokópoulos before he left Crete
In art, there was a Cretan Renaissance, the master example being Doménikos Theotokópoulos (1541–1614), alias El Greco, who began his artistic education by learning the techniques of Greek Orthodox icon painting, and went on to become a pillar of Renaissance art in Italy and then in Spain. This icon is one that he painted in about 1568, before he left Crete. It shows the the death of Mary, the mother of Christ, a subject called the Dormition by Orthodox Christians and the Assumption by Catholics. (The traditions agree that Mary fell into a sleeplike repose for a time before her body was taken into heaven, but the Orothdox church focuses on the first of these events and the Catholic church on the second.) The icon was only attributed to El Greco in 1983, when his name (Δομήνικος [Dominic]) was found on the base of the candelabrum in the center foreground.

Not long after he painted the icon, Theotokópoulos went to Venice, the natural place in Italy for a Cretan to go. There he made friends with the great Croatian miniaturist Giorgio Giulio Clovio (Juraj Julije Klović when at home), the subject of his first known portrait, and also studied with the aged Titian.

A few years later he went to try his fortune in Rome, where he had some success, but also made enemies of some important art lovers with his sometimes unorthodox opinions, such as dismissing Michaelangelo as “a good man, but he didn’t know how to paint.” Theotokópoulos didn’t care for the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and offered to paint the whole thing over, but the pope wasn’t interested. (All the same, the Cretan apparently couldn’t escape being influenced by Michaelangelo, whatever he might have thought of him.
Self-portrait (probably) of Theotokópoulos in Spain
Rome apparently became somewhat uncomfortable for Theotokópoulos, and he moved to Spain—first to Madrid, then to Toledo, Spain’s religious capital. Philip II was building ambitiously, and had a great need of good painters, but few Italians were willing to move to Spain. Perhaps it was typical Greek enterprise that caused Theotokópoulos to follow this opportunity. Spain is where he produced most of his best-known paintings, and developed the typically elongated style that some modern scholars have attributed to a retroactively diagnosed vision defect. You can see it in the picture above, believed to be a self-portrait. Its dating is approximate, but if the subject is Theotokópoulos himself, he would have been somewhere in his fifties.
Erotokrítos and Aretoúsa, by 20th-century painter Theófilos Hatzimichaíl
Meanwhile, back in Crete, a poet named Vitséntzos Kornáros wrote a verse romance, the Erotokrítos, in the style of 14th- and 15th-century French models—a style not too different, perhaps, from that of Chaucerian productions like the “Knight’s Tale.” Although little known outside the Greek-speaking world, the Erotokrítos is considered not only the masterpiece of Cretan literature, but of Greek literature from the Renaissance period (medieval though the poem is in both style and substance). It tells the story of Erotokrítos (‘Cretan Lover’) and his long wooing of Aretoúsa, daughter of the King of Athens. The poem circulated in manuscript for a century after Kornáros’ death; the first printed edition—in Greek—appeared in Venice in 1713. This picture looks old enough to come out of one of those 16th-century manuscripts, but it was painted in 1930 by Theófilos Hatzimichaíl, a self-taught artist from Lesbos whose primitive but vivid paintings made him a cult object for many Greek artists in the decades after his death in 1934. In the picture, Erotokrítos is parting from his beloved in what looks like a pretty risky way to descend a rope ladder.
Interior of the Venetian loggia in Candia (Iráklio)
As their Hellenized Italian first names—Domenico and Vicenzo (‘Vincent’), both Latin saints—and their Greek surnames indicate (to say nothing of the western artistic traditions they both embraced), these artists were living in an age when the Venetian and Greek cultures of Crete were in much closer touch than at any time before that.

The last century of Venetian rule in Crete was also distinguished by the construction of many fine buildings in the typical style of the Italian Renaissance. Every important city had a loggia, a good-sized public building that served as a social gathering place for gentlemen of the upper class. I took this picture in the loggia of the capital and largest city, Candia, which has been carefully restored without changing its original form.