End of the Enigmatic Christopher Columbus: A Man at Last Emerges to Eradicate the Myth
History is a record of the past – sculptured by omissions, interlarded with distortions, brazen lies and innocent befuddlement – forming an amalgam that's often stubbornly resistant to analysis. For the sheer scale and persistence of its inaccuracies, few of history's mistold tales could match the mix-ups associated with a certain Christopher Columbus .
Mainstream accounts depict Columbus as an incompetent, seafaring, Genoese peasant wool weaver who washed up on the shores of Portugal in 1476 and there began a career that would make "rags to riches" a lackluster understatement. But a quarter century of research has transformed both the role and the identity of this most illustrious of all explorers.
Long-lost relations, hidden in plain sight: New York's gracious Central Park memorializes two men from very distant spheres of eminence. A new Columbus biography pinpoints King Władysław II Jagiełło of Poland/Lithuania (left), victor in one of Medieval Europe's largest and most decisive battles, as the grandfather of Christopher Columbus (right). (Photos Manuel Rosa, 2009)
What’s in a Name?
Christopher Columbus was itself the garbled misinterpretation of the pseudonym, Cristóbal Colón . How the mistranslation took root and flourished is a complicated story in itself. As early as May, 1493, materials printed in Rome corrupted the surname. A century later, documents were faked by one of several Genoese pretenders to the Admiral's bitterly contested estate, and – despite their being judged fraudulent by the Spanish courts – subsequently gained a credibility that's still in force today.
Yet that noble and unquenchable love of truth, passed like a torch down generations – multiplied by the phenomenal power that computer research has made available, the miracle of modern forensic methods, travel and communications technology – has generated a body of data, supporting an argument, which appears irrefutable. The stage has been set for a paradigm shift in how the world will see the real man behind that nexus of fabrication, error and credulity that's long been misidentified as the Italian Columbus.
A Portuguese Nobleman
A case can now be made that the birthplace and parentage of Cristóbal Colón have been reliably identified. Enough of the context has been established at least to demonstrate that Colón was, beyond question , a Portuguese nobleman of very high standing. His true role and identity cannot be understood apart from their historic setting – above all because his role in that setting was so momentous.
This much is certain: The man who became known worldwide as "Columbus" was no Genoese peasant. The long-prevailing views of biographers like Taviani and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Morison have had the ground cut out from under them; they will soon become untenable.
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The portrait of Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo is recognized as such around the world. But no less an authority than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has downgraded its identity from " Columbus" to merely, the "Portrait of a man."
At left is the "Columbus" portrait any schoolchild would recognize, painted by Sebastiano del Piombo in Italy in 1519, and now discredited as a representation of Colón. At right is Pedro Berruguete’s portrait of Cristóbal Colón – almost certainly informed by face-to-face contact – and painted prior to 1504 in Spain, where Berruguete was court painter. (Left, by Sebastiano del Piombo. Right, by artist Pedro Berruguete.)
DNA testing by the University of Granada in 2003 to 2006 found no match between Cristóbal Colón and nearly 500 Colombo test subjects from that region of the Mediterranean – stretching westwards from Genoa to halfway down the Spanish coast – where received opinion has it that the Admiral must have been born.
Places where Colombo DNA samples were collected by Prof. José Lorente’s international team to compare with Colón’s DNA. The two Portuguese samples, from the Duke of Braganza and the Count of Ribeira Grande, were provided for testing by Manuel Rosa. (Image creation by Manuel Rosa)
New material has combined with a fresh look at old data, the inclusion of a hitherto curiously ignored perspective, and persistent, hardnosed reasoning to establish as a certainty that the man behind the "Columbus" illusion was a superbly educated native-speaker of Portuguese, a master pilot and navigator who maintained close if clandestine relations with the Portuguese State long after his secret defection to Spain in 1484.