John Rivera-Resto
as Cesare Borgia


Spanish Literature class

My fascination with Cesare Borgia began in Spanish Literature class at the Colegio Regional de Humacao de la Universidad de Puerto Rico. Dr. Pablo Ruíz Orozco was presiding, and as ever, we were mesmerized by his lecture. This was the only class I enjoyed in my first year of college. Without reservations, I hated all the other classes -with the exception of a painting class, which was more like an extracurricular pastime. Dr. Orozco was a living encyclopedia of the times and lives of all the great Spanish literati, and I was a history buff.

He was giving us an overview of Spain during the times of Fernando and Isabel, also known as "the Catholic Kings", and about one of the most famous books of the time: "The Prince", by the Florentine Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, known simply as: "Machiavelli". In the Prince, Machiavelli writes that to be a wise and powerful ruler, you had to be a ruthless bastard. And the two characters whose fight for power inspired and served as models for Machiavelli, were King Fernando of Aragon (and by marriage, King of Castile), and Cesare Borgia -the "bad boy" of the Italian Renaissance.


John Rivera-Resto as Cesare Borgia 2004. Self-portrait. Gouache on illustration board. 8 x 10 inches (20.32 x 25.4 cm)

Cesare Borgia (Spanish: César Borja) was an Italian politician (of Valencian/Spanish descent) and condottiero (mercenary leader), and either an illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, or his nephew (the sources are inconclusive). Cesare lived a short life, but what a life he lived! Even Leonardo Da Vinci worked for him! In popularity, he was like the "JFK" of his day and Errol Flynn all rolled into one. To this day, his life and deeds have inspired books, philosophical writings, movies, several television series, Japanese manga novels, and even a couple of video games. And, to say the least, I have a weird fixation with him.

I have read and seen just about everything there is to read and see about Cesare Borgia. When I grew a beard in my late twenties, a friend looked and me and said -"You look like the bastard" (referring to Cesare), while others used to say "You look like Jesus". As a matter of fact, many writers mentioned that Cesare was the model for the image of our modern looking Jesus. If you study painting you will know that this is not true, but Cesare definitely looked like the painted versions of Jesus from the Renaissance, so it's no wonder many claimed "he" was the model for Jesus.


John Rivera-Resto as Cesare Borgia Black and white conversion in Photoshop.

In 2001, I wrote my first screenplay titled: Bad Blood, a modern supernatural action-thriller in which I used historical and fictional characters. The synopsis read: "A Roman prince and the son of the Pope settled their five-hundred year-old vendetta in the City of Rock-n-Roll". I wrote Cesare as the main antagonist/villain and I wanted to play him in the film. Aside from an acceptable likeness, I figured his accent in English would sound similar to mine since he spoke fluently in Italian, Spanish and French. What's more, I wanted to produce and direct the film -if only I could get the financing (but that's another story).

I spent all my free time during the next two years storyboarding the entire screenplay (see "Bad Blood's Storyboards" in his Writings page). And in 2004, I prepared additional visuals for a presentation. This was when I decided to paint myself as Cesare. This way I could see me "in hair and costume" and use the image in the promotional material. So I painted myself with long auburn color hair (reddish brown) in imitation of Cesare, and in an appropriate style -parted at the center like the Jesus images. From my point of view, the resulting image was extremely convincing. I did look like the bastard -or Jesus!


A photograph of me in 2004, taken by my friend William Montalván, as I was about to climb back on my painting scaffold.

When I was younger, up to my twenties, my brown hair used to turn light in the tropical sun and my brown eyes turned sienna (yellow to light reddish brown). I used to hate it when in elementary school in Puerto Rico, the kids used to call me "el Americanito" (the little American). what's more, just because it feels right, I have worn my hair long for half of my adult life. The last photograph shows what I used to look like in the fall of 2004, at the exact time I painted myself as Cesare.

To create the painting, I used gouache -a water soluble opaque paint similar to tempera colors (like the ones kids use in school) on a 8 x 10 inch piece of illustration board. Many friends are surprised when they hear I practiced painting using only tempera colors. This was so because tempera was the only kind of paint I could buy in the school supplies section of my town's local drugstore. And this was after I had painted my first mural using only acrylics! But tempera was perfect for small scale painting because it dried fast -and specially because it was very inexpensive!

After I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of nineteen, I stopped using tempera colors as I became busier with commissions using only Artist's Oils or Acrylics. But for this self-portrait, I went back to my former roots and used the closest thing to tempera: gouache. When the painting was finished, I sprayed it with a synthetic varnish and then scanned it so I would have a digital copy. Lastly, I manipulated the image in Photoshop for use in the promotional material. Now that I'm older, I enjoy looking at it because it reminds me of the time when I felt that anything was possible.

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