In 1585, Jacques le Moyne de Morgues did a painting called A Young Daughter of the Picts. It shows a naked woman holding a lance, with sword and scabbard slung around her hips. Wavy blonde hair cascades down her back. She is about as militaristic as a buttercup: one foot is tucked demurely behind the other, the hand on the lance looks as though it’s holding porcelain, her body is soft, her pale face devoid of expression. Her skin is entirely decorated with flowers, flat and delicate as wallpaper.
Although he had been an artist on one of the first French expeditions to the Americas, de Morgues wasn’t trying to capture a Pict woman with ethnographic verisimilitude. The Picts (Picti – “painted people”) were a notoriously fierce pre-Celtic tribe from what is now known as Scotland but anybody could see this flowered blonde didn’t go to war or govern alongside her men. And Pictish tattoos were done with woad and so were monochromatic. De Morgues’s benign maiden obeyed Christian ideals of the time yet his exposure to the tattooed indigenes of Florida clearly alerted him to this tradition once common in Europe and now relegated to the margins.