"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, December 20, 2015


(Pocahontas, age 21, 1616)

Ætatis suæ 21. Ao. 1616. 

Matoaks als Rebecka daughter to the mighty Prince Powhatan Emperour of Attanoughkomouck als Virginia converted and baptized in the Chriƒtian faith, and Wife to the

worƒƒ. Mr Tho: Rolff.

This 18th century portrait of Pocahontas (Matoaks) known as the Booton Hall portrait is based on a 1616 engraving by Simon van de Passe.   The painting which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC., was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
"Pocahontas, the Indian princess who allegedly saved the life of English colonist John Smith, survives and flourishes as an example of an early American heroine. While Smith may have embellished the story of his rescue, the importance of Pocahontas to relations between colonists and Native Americans is undisputed. Following her conversion to Christianity and marriage to Englishman John Rolfe, Pocahontas journeyed to England with her family to demonstrate the ability of new settlers and native tribes to coexist in the Virginia colony. While in England, Pocahontas sat for her portrait, which was later engraved. That print served as the basis for this later portrait. The painter included an inscription beneath the likeness, copied from the engraving, but through an error in transcription it misidentifies her husband as Thomas, the name given to their son." -- National Portrait Gallery
This 1616 engraving, by Simon van de Passe, on which the Booton Hall portrait is based was published in John Smith's General History of Virginia. it is itself based on a sketch made in an actual sitting by the young artist made while Pocahontas was in England in 1616. She died, in England, in 1617. The engraving is the only surviving portrait of Pocahontas made during her lifetime. 

Matoaka aĨs Rebecca Filia Potentiss Princ Powhatani Imp: Virginiæ
"This engraving is the only known portrait of Pocahontas rendered from life. During her stay in England, Dutch engraver Simon van de Passe captured her likeness and recorded that she, like the artist himself, was 21 years old. It was the first of many depictions of Pocahontas intended to demonstrate that a Native American could adopt the demeanor of a 'civilized' European. The Virginia Company—backers of the Jamestown settlement—likely commissioned the engraving with this in mind, hoping to attract more colonists and investors. The image also promotes the false impression that she was a princess in the European sense; the inscription describes her as the daughter of a mighty emperor, and the ostrich feather in her hand is a symbol of royalty. But this engraving offers a sound estimate of Pocahontas's true appearance." -- PBS Nova
Here is a video of a brief talk about this portrait at the National Portrait Gallery  via C-Span

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