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Tattoos and body paint Tattoos and Body Paint

They are tattoed behind from the shoulders to the heels, and as soon as they have reached the age of twenty-five, on the front of the stomach, the sides, and the upper arms. (Pierre Delliette, 1702)

Tattoos and body paint on three Illinois men visiting New Orleans, 1735. (colored pen and ink by Alexandre de Batz, 1735)

Although Illinois men often wore very little clothing when the weather was warm, they commonly decorated their skin with tattoos and body paint. The tattoos were permanent markings that formed geometric designs on the arms, legs, chest, back, and sides. Based on a 1735 Alexandre de Batz painting of three tattooed Illinois men, the designs were brownish in color and included open triangles, nested triangles, and parallel zig-zag lines. The circle-and-cross design was also common; it appears on the shoulders of all three men and on the knees of one. Women also wore tattoos, but these may have been limited to the cheeks, breasts, and arms.

Red paint was commonly applied to the faces of Illinois men, women, and children. This paint was traditionally made of ochre, a reddish mineral that the Illinois obtained from natural deposits of oxidized iron. However, vermilion began to replace ochre as a source of red pigment in the early 1700s. Vermilion, a bright-red mineral composed of mercuric sulfide, was imported by the French and obtained by the Illinois as a trade item. As indicated by the 1735 de Batz painting, women and children applied red paint to their cheeks. Men often covered their entire faces with paint: red, black, and sometimes white. Some men also applied red paint to their torsos, shoulders, and upper arms, highlighting and filling in their tattooed designs.


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