Christopher Columbus? NOT!
This is now called "A portrait of an
unknown gentleman of Genoa."
For over 100 years, historians have
asserted that the inscription was added
later by an unscrupulous art dealer..
Christopher Columbus (1451–1506)
AN ENIGMA EVEN TO THIS DAY
by Gael Stirler
(reprinted from August, 2008)
Two recently published books advance new theories about the famous explorer who may not have been the first to discover the Americas but was the one who set off a chain of events that led to exploration, conquest, and colonization. One author claims that he was really Scottish and the other that he was a spy!
In "La vida de Cristoforo Colonne" published last month in Spain, Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga, an engineer and amateur historian, advances a startling new theory that revises the way that Admiral Christopher Columbus has been portrayed for centuries. He claims Columbus was the son of wealthy Scottish merchants living in Genoa and not poor weavers!
But did he look Scottish?
The portrait to the left which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and widely published in school textbooks was painted by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485–1547) many years after Columbus' death. Piombo was one of Michelangelo's students and may have been the most sought after portraitist of his day. He didn't even learn how to paint until 10 years after the death of Columbus. Though it bears an inscription that says it is a portrait of Columbus, ever since the 19th century many art historians have dismissed the inscription as having been added years later to increase the value of the painting. Piombo's biographer, Michael Hirst, includes the painting in his biography, but with the simple caption, "Portrait of a Man." The subject was probably a Bolognese cleric painted around 1530. Due to its great artistic quality it still remains the most enduring image of Columbus even though the subject's identity has been in doubt for over 100 years.
So, who was Christopher Columbus and what did he really look like? His younger son, Ferdinand, described him in his biography as tall, well-built, with a long face, high cheekbones, an aquiline nose, light-colored eyes, pale skin that tended to redden, and blond hair that turned white by the time he was thirty. In 1493 a young court page witnessed Columbus' triumphal entrance into the city of Barcelona. Later he described him in a book nearly the same though he added Columbus had very red hair, a ruddy complexion, and freckles. It is possible that he dyed his hair or wore a wig for the festivities since no other contemporary reports mention red hair. Whether his hair was blond, red, or white, the descriptions by his son and others bear little resemblance to the Piombo portrait of a man with a round face, fat nose, and dark hair. In fact, the written descriptions of the Admiral could easily describe a Scotsman.
"As there were no portraits made of Columbus during his life, the invented views reflect the hopes, fears, and biases of the artists who were a part of [their] culture." from Looks Are Deceiving: the Portraits of Christopher Columbus by Paul Martin Lester
Portrait of Christopher Columbus attributed
to Alonso Berruguete (1488–1561)
who knew Christopher Columbus personally.
According to Paul Martin Lester, out of the 71 or more portraits of Columbus, the painting that is most likely an accurate portrait was by Alonso Berruguete (1488 – 1561) since he knew Christopher Columbus and painted him less than 15 years after his death. Berruguete also lived at court in Valladolid where the people remembered Columbus well. If this is the Admiral's true likeness, he does indeed look Scottish.
The early life of Christopher Columbus
The traditional story is that he was born Christoforo Colombo the son of a weaver who lived in Genoa, an independent citystate northwest of Rome in Liguria, Italy. Genoa was a wealthy seafaring state controlling many islands in the Mediterranean. Though the child Christoforo undoubtedly existed, this may not have been the same child that grew up to be the great explorer. Very little is really known about Columbus' origin or history before he married into the nobility of Portugal. What we do know is that he was never known as Christopher Columbus during his life. He started calling himself Colón or Colom (he used both spellings) when he was a young man and didn't adopt Christoferens (not Cristoforo) as a first name until he went to the Spanish court to ask for funds to explore the western sea. Christoferens Colónmeans Bearer of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Some historians say that he was a member of a family of mercenaries who were well known enemies of the King of Spain and that is why he changed his name. Others say it was because he was ashamed of his humble beginnings as the son of a weaver. The amateur historian Alfonso Ensenat de Villalonga claims that he has proof that he was born in Genoa, but not to weavers. Instead, he was the son of expatriate merchant parents who relocated from Scotland.
...continued on Renstore.com.