Are the First Depictions of Native Americans in the Vatican?

lucrezia borgiaChristopher Columbus made landfall in 1492 – we all know that – and “discovered” the North American continent.  His voyage was financed by Ferninand and Isabella, the Spanish King and Queen.  He returned in March of 1493 and turned over his journal to his benefactors who attempted to maintain secrecy about what he had discovered.  However, that secrecy did not last and before long, everyone knew.

Also in 1492, Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI, an extremely controversial man who fathered several children and became a symbol of corruption in the Catholic church.  His daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, at right, was reportedly married in the Sistine Chapel.

Her third marriage was to Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara.  My Estes family has been rumored for decades to have descended from this family, although it remains unproven as the d’Este paternal line has, ironically, become extinct, so no Y chromosomal DNA testing can be performed.

Borgia’s corruption wasn’t limited to women and sex, but included assassinations, murders in his Papal quarters of his daughter’s husband(s) and marital annulments to suit his fancy.  There were even allegations of incest.

Suffice it to say, no future Popes wanted to be associated or affiliated with him or his memory.

His apartment at the Vatican was furnished in Papal style, including many contemporary paintings.  He commissioned a fresco, The Resurrection, by Renaissance master Pinturicchio in 1494, on the walls of his residence in the Vatican.

After Pope Alexander’s death in 1503, the Borgia Apartments were sealed.  His successor Pope, Julius II, would have nothing to do with Borgia’s apartment and what had allegedly taken place there, and ordered that all paintings made for Pope Alexander be covered in black crepe.  In 1889, 386 years later, the Borgia apartments were reopened and dedicated to the display of religious art.

Recently The Resurrection fresco was cleaned.  After the dirt and grime were removed, you can now see what appears to be naked people with feathers in their hair dancing.  These are directly behind the head of the risen Christ.  Columbus described being greeted by nude Native people.  In addition, he kidnapped between 10 and 25 Indians and returned to Spain with them, although only 7 survived to arrival.


If these indeed are Native Americans, then they are the first depictions.  Until now, the first paintings were believe to be those of John White, painter and eventually governor of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke.  White produced these paintings from 1584-1587.  Note that some of his are nude as well.  This painting, if it is of Native Americans, would be almost  100 years earlier.

To see the entire fresco and read more, click here.

Hat tip to Shawn for info about the painting.


About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
This entry was posted in Art, Christopher Columbus, History. Bookmark the permalink.

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