While restoring a fresco painted in 1494 by Pinturicchio on the walls of the Vatican’s Borgia Apartments, Maria Pustka found small images of dancing men that may be the first Western depictions of Native Americans. “The Borgia Pope was interested in the New World, 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,” wrote Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums. That pope would eventually arbitrate the division of New World lands between Spain and Portugal. While Alexander deliberated on the division of spoils and issued papal bulls, Pinturicchio was busy decorating the Borgia Pope's apartments. At a time when the Columbus's epic discoveries were so much a part of Vatican affairs, Prof Paolucci believes that it is no surprise that a reference to the New World features in the painting. The mysterious figures remain unnoticed for so long because the Borgia Apartments were abandoned after the death of Alexander VI in 1503.


Subsequent Popes did not want to be associated with the notorious family of schemers and adulterers. They were only reopened in 1889 by Leo XIII, and are now used to display a collection of religious art.

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