Saturday, May 4, 2013

Are These Native American Dancers in a Renaissance Painting???

This is absolutely fascinating!  Is there a way to verify what these figures were meant to represent by the artist -- a diary, or written records of some kind left behind by the artist? Check out the images and my comments -- I put them below the article.

Story at

Vatican uncovers 'first Western painting of Native Americans'

They have remained hidden for more than five centuries, but tiny figures of naked men wearing feathered head-dresses could be the first Western depiction of Native Americans, the Vatican claims.

3:33PM BST 02 May 2013

The group of tiny figures was discovered during the restoration of a magnificent fresco, owned by the Vatican, which depicts Christ's Resurrection. The painting, by the Renaissance master Pinturicchio, was finished in 1494, just two years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World. It has adorned the walls of the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican for 500 years but was only recently subjected to restoration work.

xxx The naked men, who appear to be dancing, were spotted by a restorer, Maria Pustka, as she removed centuries of grime. The figures, which appear just above the image of an open marble casket from which Christ has risen, had previously gone unnoticed.

The discovery was unveiled by Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, in L'Osservatore Romano, the city state's daily newspaper. Prof Paolucci suggests that the "nude men, who are decorated with feathers and seem to be dancing," were inspired by the descriptions of tribesmen that Columbus brought back from his travels.

Columbus's voyages across the Atlantic were commissioned by Spain, but Prof Paolucci said the Vatican would inevitably have heard of his discoveries, particularly given that the Pope at the time, Alexander VI, the notorious Rodrigo Borgia, was Spanish.

"The Borgia Pope was interested in the New World, as were the great chancelleries of Europe. It is hard to believe that the papal court, especially under a Spanish pope, would have remained in the dark about what Columbus encountered," Prof Paolucci said in the article.

Columbus described meeting tall, well-built natives whose bodies were daubed with red and black pigmentation and who gave him parrots as presents.

The explorer, who was from Genoa, made four journeys in total, all under the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. He set out on the first voyage in August 1492, with his first land fall in the New World believed to be an island in what is now the Bahamas.

He continued to modern-day Cuba and Hispaniola, all the time looking for gold. When he arrived back in Spain in March 1493, news of his discoveries became a sensation and spread through Europe. He described his encounters in letters to Ferdinand and Isabella, and within months a copy of the letter, written in Latin, was circulating in Rome.

Pope Alexander VI soon found himself playing a pivotal role in the New World discoveries – he had to arbitrate between the competing claims of Spain and Portugal. While Alexander deliberated on the division of spoils and issued papal bulls, Pinturicchio was busy decorating the Borgia Pope's apartments.

At a time when the Columbus's epic discoveries were so much a part of Vatican affairs, Prof Paolucci believes that it is no surprise that a reference to the New World features in the painting.

The mysterious figures remain unnoticed for so long because the Borgia Apartments were abandoned after the death of Alexander VI in 1503. Subsequent Popes did not want to be associated with the notorious family of schemers and adulterers. They were only reopened in 1889 by Leo XIII, and are now used to display a collection of religious art.

The painting:

Christ's Resurrection by Pinturicchio. Photo: Musei Vaticani
The following enlargement of part of the painting is focusing on the figure in the red garment standing behind the opened coffin, looking upward at the ascending Christ.  The figures are just to the left of his head/face as he looks upward.  In the image of the painting, above, you can just make out some tiny little - somethings - of white/greyish paint.  Here's the enlargement:

The painting by Pinturicchio was finished just two years after Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World
Photo: Musei Vaticani
In these ghostly figures in the background, next to the figure in red's head/face, I see two horses on the left.  One horse shows part of a leg (left leg?) raised off the ground and faces in near-profile to the right, while the second horse is just to the right of the first, looking directly out of the painting at the viewer; the noses of the two horses are nearly touching but it is clear from the attempted perspective that the second horse is further back.  And, on the right of the "dancers" is a figure with what appears to be a metal helmet on -- a conquistidor? - who is facing left.  And just to the left of the conquistidor's helmet rim, slightly elevated, is that a symbol for a cross I see, as if being held aloft by someone not seen in the background?

So many questions -- no answers!  Are there other such "ghostly" figures in this painting?  The images in the enlargement, above, appear to be masterfully painted.  In real life size -- this was painted on a large wall area -- would the figures have been readily discernible to the naked eye before they were covered over with centuries of grime?

By the way, what is that flag that the Christ figure is evidently carrying on a staff or standard -- the red cross against the white background?  Did Christ have a FAVORITE country? 

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