An uncomfortable position
The Turks, coming from central Asia, had not originally been a seagoing people, but in the course of their long contention with the Byzantine empire, they had developed a competent naval force, which they now proceeded to expand. Naval battles in those days were still won by a combination of sailors and soldiers on shipboard. Turks might be relative newcomers to the first of these professions, but they had long been unexcelled at the second, and had never been backward in mastering any military art.
Two Turkish-Venetian wars were fought in the half-century after Constantinople fell in 1453. In the first (1463–1479), the Venetians lost their most important base in the northern Aegean, the island that they called Negroponte (Euboea is its classical Greek name), as well as the island of Lemnos and several ports in Greece, Albania, and Dalmatia. In the second war (1499–1503), they lost most of their strongholds in the Peloponnesus and were forced to concede that, at sea, the Turks were a match—and sometimes more than a match—for Venice.
During the same half-century, 1450–1500, Europe’s Atlantic states, notably Portugal and Spain, had discovered sea routes to the Orient, and made a start on taking over the lucrative spice and silk trades and cutting Venice out of its profitable position as Europe’s middleman. The Most Serene Republic was still a naval power, but that power was slipping away, weakened economically by Iberian navigators and militarily by surging Ottoman power.
The Sultan, coming up on his 72nd birthday, was really too old for this sort of thing, and he died of natural causes a few days before the victory betokened in the painting. News of his demise was prudently kept from the army until the fighting was over, lest it affect morale. But the Grand Vizier, now in command, found it necessary to get everyone back to Istanbul to deal with the politics of succession, so Vienna was saved. Clearly, there were grounds for Europeans to hope that the Ottomans weren’t invincible on land, either.
Suleiman was the last of a series of strong and effective Ottoman rulers, and a string of weak and ineffective sultans followed him. Warfare continued along the border that separated Ottoman-controlled Europe from its Christian-controlled neighbors, but that border remained materially unchanged.
Crete was left to enjoy its Renaissance for another 80 years. During this time Venice did its best to maintain peaceful relations with the Ottomans, but was fearful that they were always on the lookout for an excuse to attack Crete, the Republic’s last and richest imperial holding, in its exposed position. Exposed it certainly was—all the nearest ports and islands, in every direction, were now Turkish territory.