Created by Simon van de Passe, this 1616 engraved portrait of the Virginia Indian Pocahontas is the only known image of her made from life. The Dutch artist was working in London that year when Pocahontas arrived in England with her husband, John Rolfe. Once in London, Pocahontas was lodged and clothed at the expense of the Virginia Company of London, the joint-stock corporation dedicated to the settlement of Virginia; this engraving was made as part of a fund-raising effort by the company. The young native woman is portrayed here in elite European fashion: she wears a Jacobean-era, high-necked dress (covering any tattoos she might have had), and in her right hand she holds ostrich plumes, a symbol of royalty.
Pocahontas was one of dozens of children born to Powhatan, the paramount chief of Tsenacomoco, a political alliance of Algonquian-speaking Indians in Tidewater Virginia. In her infancy, Pocahontas was given the secret personal name Matoaka; she later adopted the Christian name Rebecca. (Both names are shown in the engraving.) An iconic figure in American history, Pocahontas is largely known for saving the life of the Jamestown colonist John Smith and then romancing him—although both events are unlikely to be true.
CreatorSimon van de Passe
SourceNational Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Physical Dimension6.875" x 4.75"
Rights Statement: Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery