Discover 5 Don Quixote Influences from Life and Literature

Learn more about what inspired Cervantes' masterwork

By Google Arts & Culture

With content from the Doge's Palace, the Artizon Museum, and more

Don Quixote in the Mountains (c.1850) by Honore DAUMIERArtizon Museum, Ishibashi Foundation

'The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha' is Miguel de Cervantes' tale of an anachronistic Spanish nobleman who pines for the adventures of the wandering knights of yore. 

Cervantes drew influence both from his own experiences and the chivalric romances which Quixote satirizes. Continue reading below to learn more about Cervantes' past as well as the artworks that influenced him.

The Battle of Lepanto (1595 - 1605) by Andrea Michieli detto VicentinoDoge's Palace

Military Service

In 1570, Cervantes enlisted in the Spanish Navy, serving as a soldier until 1575. This painting depicts the Battle of Lepanto, a clash between the Holy League and the Ottoman empire, at which Cervantes fought.

He commanded a small boat like this one during the battle. He sustained multiple injuries, but the forces defeated the Ottoman fleet. The war, however, was an Ottoman victory. In many ways, Quixote's ill-fated quest for valor parallels Cervantes' military experience.

Captivity and ransom of Miguel de Cervantes. Captivity and ransom of Miguel de Cervantes. (1580-12-18) by Rodrigo de Vera, public notary of Madrid. (Archivo Histórico de Protocolos de Madrid.)Archivos Estatales

In September of 1575, Cervantes and his brother Rodrigo were captured by Barbary pirates. Rodrigo was ransomed in 1577, but Cervantes remained in captivity until he was freed in 1580. In the novel, Don Quixote frees a group of galley slaves and a warrant is issued for his arrest.

The Liberation of Oriane from a set of Amadis of Gaul (ca. 1590–95) by Karel van Mander I|Frans SpieringThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

This tapestry, woven a few years prior to the writing of Quixote, depicts a scene from 'Amadís De Gaula', one of the favorite heroic romances of Cervantes' protagonist.

Quixote aspired to be like Amadís, pictured here placidly holding the hand of his love, Oriane. Amadís embodied the romantic adventures crudely mimicked by the man of La Mancha.

Hexathlon on the Island of Lipadusa (1816) by Julius Schnorr von CarolsfeldKunsthalle Bremen

Another work referenced throughout Cervantes' novel is 'Orlando Furioso', an Italian epic poem about a spurned knight driven mad by jealousy.

Orlando, painted here on the white horse, recovers from his madness and goes on to kill King Agramante on the island of Lampedusa. In contrast, Quixote's adventures typically end in his defeat, and he persists in his folly.

Plate 1: Apuleius changed into a donkey, listening to the story told by the old woman, from the Story of Cupid and Psyche as told by Apuleius (1530–60) by Master of the Die|Matteo Gregorio Rossi|Antonio Salamanca|Michiel Coxie (I)The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Cervantes also makes references to Apuleius' 'Metamorphoses', also known as 'The Golden Ass', in which the protagonist's quest to practice magic results in his being turned into a donkey. 

Quixote's doomed missions echo the overeager Lucius' misfortunes, and the themes of hubris and social class link both works. Both heroes begin as noblemen, but undergo multiple transformations on their paths to glory.

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