The battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 in the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece. It was the first major Ottoman defeat by the Christian powers and heralded the end of Turkish supremacy in the Mediterranean. This decisive five-hour battle was fought between the Holy League (an uneasy coalition between Venice, the Papacy, Spain, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights of Malta and others) under John of Austria, and the Ottomans, under Uluç Ali Pasha. The Holy League’s fleet consisted of 206 galleys and six galeasses (converted merchant galleys with artillery), and carried around 30,000 fighting men, which was evenly matched by the Ottoman fleet, which nevertheless suffered a humiliating defeat. It was the final major battle between oared vessels, and was celebrated by artists at the time, as well as by later artists. Given the Genoan involvement under Giovanni Andrea Doria, who commanded 53 galleys for the Holy League, it seems quite probable that Andries van Eertvelt painted this picture for a Genoese patron, in circa 1627/30.
Van Eertvelt was a pupil of Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom (1566-1640) and, in the early part of his career, painted small seascapes in the manner of his master. It was only later, having been influenced by various visits to Italy, that he decided to paint on a grander and larger scale.