Painting by Sebastiano del Piombo. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1900.

The Piombo Portrait (1519)

The portrait attributed to Sebastiano del Piombo (Sebastiano Luciani, ca. 1485-1547) is highly regarded as it has been used in many recent descriptions and articles about the Admiral.

However, there are still two questions about this portrait:

Piombo's biographer, Michael Hirst, includes the painting now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in his biography, but with the simple caption, "Portrait of a Man." He theorizes that it is probably a portrait of one of the clerics present at Bologna in the winter of 1529-30.

As a portrait of Columbus, it is a bit unusual. All other paintings of Columbus show him without a hat. In this one the figure wears a hat with a curled border. A deep-edged and ornate mantle hangs from his shoulders. His fingers are long and delicate. His face is round, his eyes blue, and a dimple is barely visible in his chin. Most striking about this painting is the legend that runs along the top. The inscription which identifies the sitter as Columbus was certainly included much later. There is also doubt about the signature. In those days it was an exceptional occurrence for an artist to sign a work (or to add a legend). It was probably added by the writer of the inscription to increase the value of the work.

The De Bry engraving Curiously, Theodore de Bry, printer and engraver at Frankfurt, claimed that an engraving made by his son Jean used in his book Collectiones Peregrinationum in Indiam Occidentalem was copied from a painting of Columbus commissioned by the King and Queen of Spain after the Admiral's first voyage. If so, the work would be the inspiration for all of the Jovian portraits. The engraving, however, is a copy of the Piombo canvas [right].

The Piombo portrait was also used for this El Salvador banknote of 50 colons (Notafilia)

Excerpt from Paul Martin Lester, Looks Are Deceiving: the Portraits of Christopher Columbus, Originally published in Visual Anthropology, Vol. 5, pp. 211-227 C1993 Harwood Academic Publishers GmbH; click here for the WWW-version.