Art restorer Maria Pustka found the first known European depiction of Native Americans while cleaning a painting of Christ’s Resurrection by Renaissance master Bernardino di Betto (also called Pintoricchio or Pinturicchio) from 1494 at the Vatican. After rubbing off the dirt the painting suddenly showed a small group of dancing naked men with feathered headdresses and a man on horseback. The painting has been hanging around the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace for about 500 years without receiving too much restoration work. That’s why this significant detail has been hidden.
Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museum, announced the discovery April 27 in the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. The painting was dated to 1494 — only 2 years after Christopher Columbus had first crossed the Atlantic – seems to show people from an island called the Bahamas today.
According to The Telegraph, Columbus had written letters about his discoveries in America to the Catholic Monarchs of Spain who have been funding his journeys. The Pope at this time was Alexander VI, the infamous Rodrigo Borgia who was also from Spain. So, it’s very likely that the Vatican knew details of Columbus journey.
“The Borgia Pope was interested in the New World,” Paolucci explained, “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.”
The Borgia Apartments stayed unoccupied after Alexander VI’s death in 1503 since succeeding Popes didn’t want to be associated with his scandalous reputation. Therefore the painting collected dust and the vatican forgot about it. The rooms were reopened in 1889 by Pope Leo XIII and today they are used to display a collection of religious art.
Image: (c) Vatican Museums