Italian merchant and explorer Amerigo Vespucci made several voyages to what is now Brazil in the early sixteenth century; America is named after him. Thomas Jefferson considered Vespucci to be one of four "first discoverers" whose portraits should be preserved in the United States. In 1787, he commissioned copies of portraits of Vespucci, Christopher Columbus, Hernando Cortés, and Ferdinand Magellan that were in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. Other Americans followed suit, making copies of these portraits to augment the historical record. During the winter of 1816, artist and museum-keeper Charles Willson Peale, who wanted copies of these four "noted voyagers" for his collection of portraits in Philadelphia, borrowed paintings owned by diplomat and poet Joel Barlow and created this portrait. It remained in Peale’s museum until 1854 and still retains its original frame.
Peale Museum, Philadelphia; Peale Museum sale, 1854, number 2; Wilson C. Swann, Philadelphia; gift 1859 to Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; transferred to the Atwater Kent Museum (now the Philadelphia History Museum); deaccessioned to (Christie's, New York, 29 September 2010, bought in); purchased 2011 NPG