|A close up view.
Photo: L'Osservatore Romano.
The fresco in question adorns a wall in the Borgia Apartment, a private wing built for Alexander VI (1492-1503) and decorated by Bernardo di Betto, called il Pinturicchio, and his assistants. It was painted between 1492 and 1494, and thus completed not long after Christopher Columbus returned from the Americas with tantalizing reports of the local peoples and customs. Alexander VI, indeed, spent much of the year 1493 addressing the ramifications of the Columbian voyage, crafting his bullae Inter Caetera (issued on May 4th, 1493), and Dudum Siquidem (September 26th, 1493) to divide the world beyond Europe between Portugal and Spain. Unsurprising, then, that nude figures wearing feather headdresses in accordance with the vague descriptions of the newly encountered peoples would feature on one of the Pope's walls. Vatican Museums director Antonio Paolucci, who announced the discovery in L’Osservatore Romano, advances the idea that these figures are dancing, but I don't see it. These are men motion, to be sure, but let's not succumb too readily to the temptation of the "dancing natives" trope, ok?