Images of a Legend

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unknown artist

likely 1700s, unknown English artist

This widely exhibited oil painting, now part of the National Portrait Gallery's collection, veers from the 1616 de Passe engraving in telling ways. Made long after Pocahontas's death, the painting bears text (out of sight here) that mistakenly calls her the wife of Thomas, rather than John, Rolfe. Subtler, yet perhaps more meaningful, distortions exist as well. Her dark skin and black hair have become white and brown respectively, and her facial features more delicate. She retains the chaste, high-necked Jacobian costume of the engraving (which may have covered the real Pocahontas's tattoos), but her jacket is softer and more feminine. Altogether, she seems closer to an 18th-century European ideal of beauty than a 17th-century Powhatan Indian.

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