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Nude figures in the background of Pinturiccio's "Resurrection."

Images of Native Americans Revealed During Vatican Fresco Cleaning

ICTMN Staff
4/29/13

During meticulous cleaning of a fresco titled “Resurrection” painted by Italian artist Pinturicchio on a wall in the Hall of Mysteries in the Borgia apartments, the Vatican declared in it’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, that they may have uncovered the first painted images of Native Americans.

“Just behind the Resurrection, behind a soldier who is enthralled by the incredible event he is seeing, you are able to discern nude men wearing feathers who appear to be dancing,” says Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci, according to a report in the Gazzetta del Sud, about the revealed images. The images were painted in 1494 shortly after Christopher Columbus returned from what he had dubbed the “New World” and handed over his diary describing what he saw.

A close up view of the possible image of Native Americans at the Vatican (Courtesy L'Osservatore Romano)

“It would be far-fetched though to believe that the papal court was oblivious to what Colombo saw when he got to the other end of the world,” Paolucci said. “If the impressions of those nude, good, happy men who gave parrots as gifts and painted their bodies red and black are the dancing figures of Pinturicchio’s Resurrection, this would be the first representation of Native Americans.”

The Borgia apartments are a suite of rooms in the Vatican; three of the rooms were Alexander VI’s personal living space until his death in 1503 when they were closed off by Pope Pius III. The rooms, and the frescoes within, were sealed off for 400 years until Pope Leo XII opened them in 1889. The rooms are now part of the Vatican Library.

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O. Quadir's picture
O. Quadir
Submitted by O. Quadir on
I believe Alexander also decreed that natives were to be treated well and converted to the faith. Though kindness towards locals did not occur for hundreds of years, perhaps it indicates that he and the papacy in general were interested in this potential new "flock", if not enough to truly protect them. The artwork is perhaps a representation of his and the churches theological/anthropological interest in the inhabitants New World, their culture and essentially whether the nature of their "souls" would be open to Catholicism or be able to comprehend it.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
Horrible things were done to Native cultures here in the Southwest by the Spanish and their church. I wonder if there are any hidden depictions of Juan Onate chopping off the feet of Pueblo NDNs? Probably not, the Vatican is always careful to portray themselves in the best light.
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