For most of the 1600s and 1700s, few images of Virginia Indians are known to have been created. Lacking firsthand documentation, European publishers often used illustrations that were imagined by artists. For these representations, which tend to the exotic, the artists borrowed indiscriminately, mixing invented and actual details and interchanging characteristics of native groups from both American continents and from Africa.
In 1671 the Amsterdam printer Jacob Meurs published De nieuwe en onbekende weereld; of Beschryving van america en't zuid-land, or America, by Arnoldus Montanus, a compilation in Dutch of historical accounts from North and South America. Montanus was a Jesuit and apparently sought illustrations that emphasized the non-Christian, heathen character of Native American religion. To that end, the unnamed artist for the book invented a Virginia scene that borrowed from images of Mexican Indian practice. This concocted scene was in turn copied by other artists.
Other representations of Virginia Indians appear to have been influenced by the notion of the "Noble Savage." Usually identified with Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the mid-1700s, the Noble Savage emerged from the notion that pre-civilized societies were naturally harmonious. Scholarly opinion is that the concept actually originated before Rousseau, with Aphra Behn's Oroonoko of 1688 or Jean de Ury's 1578 account of Brazil.