Born in Genoa, Pietrò Costa studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence under the supervision of the sculptor Gazzarini. Through association with the latter, Costa obtained his first public commission, a monumental statue of Christopher Columbus. This was followed in 1854 by his portrayal of the 17th century Tuscan poet and naturalist Francesco Redi (d. 1697), commissioned for one of the portico niches at the Uffizi, Florence. From this point forward, biographical notes on Costa appear to confuse him with another sculptor of the same name, but mostly active during the 1880s.
The present work by Costa, L'Indiana (Indian Girl), was first shown at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, where it was described by the art critic J. Beavington Atkinson as being "a figure exquisite in beauty of form and grace of line, and remarkable, as others of the class, for the delicacy of its execution" (The Art Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the International Exhibition, 1862, p. 315).
Represented in art as the personification of America since the continent's discovery by Columbus in 1492, the American Indian woman was a popular and frequently depicted theme among 19th century sculptors. Often treated by American artists, namely Joseph Mozier (d. 1870), Hiram Powers (d. 1873) and Erastus Dow Palmer (d. 1904), the subject was also favoured by European - predominantly Italian - sculptors. Whilst the motifs in the present work leave no doubt as to its theme, Costa's interpretation, concerned more with idealising the female form rather than portraying a specific anthropological type, draws undeniably from classical sculpture and, in particular, from the various Roman and Greek representations of Venus to which he would have had access in the Uffizi.