A Cool Misrepresentation

Self-conscious people worry about the way other people think of them. Misrepresentation is a common fear; the idea that other people think of you in a manner that doesn’t fit the narrative that you have constructed about yourself and want to promote to others. But what if you are misrepresented in a cool way? This is the case with this amazing watercolour drawing of a Caledonian warrior by John White. There is no way that a Caledonian warrior would have looked like this, but there is no doubt that the original Caledonians did not look half as cool (and terrifying) as White’s drawing.

Caledonian warrior, by John White, 1585-1593, British Museum

White used ancient sources to imagine the picts. According to the British Museum’s description of the drawing:

“Herodian mentions the iron torcs, the sword chain is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus, and the narrow oval shield, twisted torcs, nakedness, head-hunting and body painting are all described. Herodian wrote: ‘They paint their bodies with sundry colours, with all kinds of animals represented in them.’ “

Of course, White also had a modern agenda; to present a people so barbaric that would make the Indians of the Americas appear less barbaric to Western eyes and, in effect, less dangerous.

White also used contemporary visual refferences:

“It is also worth noting that the paintings and tattoos on this Pict in particular resemble some of the more elaborate sculpted and gilded decorations on court armour of the period, which employed similar fantastic beasts on shoulders, helmets and breastplates.”


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