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What Did Christopher Columbus Look like?

Christopher Columbus may have discovered a "new world" in America, but no one has been able to discover a true portrait of the man. Every known likeness of Columbus was created from written descriptions of the explorer, including information provided by his second son, Ferdinand. At the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 71 alleged Columbus portraits were exhibited, but a jury found no evidence that any of them were authentic.

Three early portraits – by artists Paulus Jovius, Sebastiano Luciano and Lorenzo Lotto – have been repeatedly published and passed off as accurate, but none of these were painted from real life. There is no evidence that any of the artists ever met Christopher Columbus.

More myths and truths about Columbus:

  • Columbus wasn't the first European to "find" the so-called New World. The Norse explorer Leif Erikson landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., almost five centuries before Columbus set sail.
  • Looking for financial backing, Columbus claimed he would find a western route to Asia. Monarchs in Portugal, England and France said that his calculations were wrong and that the voyage would take far longer than his itinerary indicated. They were right.
  • La Niña and La Pinta were not the actual names of his ships. La Pinta was a nickname (Spanish for "painted lady"), bestowed by the ship's crew. La Niña – actually the Santa Clara – was also a nickname (for owner Juan Niño) that the mariners adopted.
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