First depiction in Europe of indigenous Americans?

In 1494, Pinturicchio completed a fresco of the Resurrection in the Borgia Apartments of the Vatican f0r his patron, Pope Alexander VI Borgia.  The painting has recently been cleaned and scholars are debating the identity of the nearly nude dancing male figures in the distant background (visible immediately under the figure  of the resurrected Christ).


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This raises interesting questions.  Is this an accurate representation of the men Columbus encountered?  What did artists in Rome know about Columbus’s voyages, especially his first voyage of 1492?  If Pinturicchio depicted indigenous people here, why?  What might this say about views the Christian world held at this time?

For more, read this related article.

8 thoughts on “First depiction in Europe of indigenous Americans?

  1. Lohryn Cox

    I believe this could be accurate representations of Native Americans. Pope Alexander VI would certainly have known about the voyages and the subsequent discoveries if not had a direct hand in them. If Pinturicchio did not see a Native American in person, he certainly would have had access to the new information either from the Papal court or from the thousands of Spanish mercenaries that were present in and around Rome during this time.

  2. Megan Clevenger

    I find this article interesting. While there seems to be some slight evidence that the figures could be modeled after indigenous people, I’m not sure it’s the correct answer. The article mentions one of the figures has a Mohican haircut. The native American tribes that Columbus encountered were in the Caribbean, and not known for Mohican haircuts. Mohican haircuts were famous for the Mohawk tribe in the New York area, far from where Columbus landed on any of his voyages. Instead, I would propose that the figures might represent Jewish people that caused the death of Jesus, and therefore are depicted as pagans who did not support the son of God.

  3. Niketa Hurteau

    This is a really great, fascinating article; the portrait is absolutely beautiful as well. The figures in the picture definitely appear as some form of indigenous human beings. They do not look like normal renaissance/post-renaissance Europeans. Judging by their positions and actions in the picture: dancing around nude, they are observing common and popular Native American traditions/customs. It appears as if the artist portrayed them as barbaric and uncivilized. I think these may have been the first people Columbus encountered in the Americas. I believe the purpose of this portrait was to depict them as ignorant heathens.

  4. Edan Lyons

    This is quite a compelling article, but like observing and critiquing any work of art, whether from the 15th or 20th century, a tremendous amount of speculation occurs. Due to the proximity of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the americas and the creation of the painting i must agree that the prospect of the images of the dancing, nude men could be Native Americas. However, the human instinct to decorate yourself with war paints and animal skins is that reserved only for Native Americans. Obviously nothing here can be definitively proved, but it is still fun to consider all the different possibilities and the different implications they have on the society it was created in.

  5. Madison Neisser

    I really enjoyed this article. It seems to be that since the dates of Columbus’ voyages to this painting, men that the male figures behind Christ in the background could very well be Native Americans. They may not be correctly portrayed if he had just heard stories about them and Pinturicchio used his imagination to paint them as he thought they would look. I also really enjoy that scholars are still examining pieces of art after they are cleaned and to this day they are finding and speculating more meaning from them. There is always more insight to be discovered!

  6. Haley Spencer

    I think it’s interesting how Pinturicchio added both elements of a country’s pride and the Resurrection of Jesus. I feel like at this time period, many art pieces solely focused on Catholic images. I think this definitely could have given way to art pieces that incorporated a country’s pride. As far as this being Columbus, I feel as though many people did not know a lot of detail about him finding the Americas, they just knew he found it. The man under Christ could be someone from the church, as this was made for the Pope.

  7. Allison Skowronski

    I enjoyed reading this article as I have always been interested in Native American history. I believe the dancing male figures could possibly be Native Americans but since they are right below the figure of the resurrected Christ, they are more likely religious figures.

  8. Emma Whitaker

    During this period of time it would be safe to assume that the way they are depicted is the way they actually look. However, it is important to realize that Native American’s were described as savages and barbarians. What if the figures in the art work are being depicted this way because of this biased thought? Europeans always felt like the superior race compared to others around the world. At the same time though, no one alive today was around at this time so it is impossible to say wether the artist accurately portrayed the indigenous people


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