Images of a Legend

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van de Passe

1616, Simon van de Passe

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.

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