juan-de-pareja

No disrespect to Ludacris, but please. This happens to be my favorite painting of all …

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art:

This extraordinary portrait depicts Velázquez’s slave of Moorish descent, who served as an assistant in his workshop. Painted in Rome, it was displayed publicly beneath the portico of the Pantheon in March 1650. Velázquez clearly intended to impress his Italian colleagues with his unique artistry. Indeed we are told that the picture “gained such universal applause that in the opinion of all the painters of the different nations everything else seemed like painting but this alone like truth”. Juan de Pareja became a painter in his own right and was freed by Velázquez in 1654.

Link here.

I have a copy that needs a frame. One day Señor de Pareja, one day …

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Juan de Pareja

Flight Into Egypt

Spain (1658)

Oil on canvas

66 ½ x 49 3/8 in. (168.9 x 125.4 cm)

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the State Art Museum of Florida, a division of Florida State University.

Pareja was born in Antequera, Seville. Having requested permission from the Procurador Mayor to join his brother in Madrid to perfect his art, he was first employed by Diego Velasquez in his workshop during the 1630s, to grind colors and prepare canvases.

He accompanied Velasquez to Italy in 1649, & while there posed for his portrait; the work, entitled Juan de Pareja , hangs now in the Metropolitan Museum, NY. In it the servant/painter’s dark skin and dark, curly hair indicate his origin. According to Palomino, the master made the painting as an exercise in painting a head from life before he portrayed Pope Innocent X (1649-50).

Pareja’s few known works are dated between 1658 and 1669. They are eclectic in style and show the use of a warm range of color, closer to that of Juan Carreño de Miranda than of Velasquez.

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diego velazquez

portrait of juan de parjea, 1650

In 1648, as court painter to Philip IV of Spain, Diego Velázquez was sent to Rome to purchase works of art for the Alcázar in Madrid, and he brought Juan de Pareja with him. During his stay in Rome, Velázquez executed an oil portrait of Juan de Pareja, which was displayed as part of a larger exhibition of paintings at the Pantheon on 19 March 1650. According to Antonio Palomino’s biography of Velázquez, the painting “was generally applauded by all the painters from different countries, who said that the other pictures in the show were art but this one alone was ‘truth’.”

Velázquez painted the Juan de Pareja as an exercise in preparation for his official portrait of Pope Innocent X. The Pope, a ruddy-faced man who would be depicted in the bright pink and crimson robes of his office, presented a tricky study in both color and composition. Additionally, since he would be executing a portrait from life, Velázquez would be forced to work quickly while still capturing the essence of Innocent X’s character. The Juan de Pareja reflects Velázquez’s exploration of the difficulties he would encounter in the Pope’s portrait. To compensate for a restricted palette of colors, Velázquez adopted a loose, almost impressionistic style of brushwork to bring an intense vitality to his subject—a style which would make both the Juan de Pareja and the subsequent portrait of Innocent X two of the most renowned paintings of his career.

from wikipedia

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

Juan de Pareja

1650

Oil on canvas

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the ARTstor website:

    In 1648 Velázquez was dispatched to Rome by Philip IV of Spain to buy works of art for the Alcazar palace in Madrid. In Rome he painted an official portrait of Pope Innocent X (Galeria Doria Pamphili, Rome). Before starting work on the papal portrait he made an informal painting of his own assistant Juan de Pareja, a Sevillian of Moorish descent. This picture was exhibited in Rome on March 19, 1650. In his life of Velázquez (1724), Palomino writes that the painting “was generally applauded by all the painters from different countries, who said that the other pictures in the show were art but this one alone was ‘truth.’” The direct approach in this painting contrasts with the more formal structure of Velázquez’s state portraits.

Portrait of Juan de Pareja, Freed Slave and Painter,

by Velázquez

Juan de Pareja (1606–1670) was a Spanish painter, born in Antequera, near Malaga, Spain. He is primarily known as a member of the household and workshop of painter Diego Velázquez. His 1661 work The Calling of St. Matthew (sometimes also referred to as The Vocation of St. Matthew) is currently on display at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. De Pareja became Velazquez’s assistant sometime after the master returned to Madrid from his first trip to Italy in January 1631. After the death of Velazquez he entered the service of Juan del Mazo.

He was a slave and afterwards a freedman, and was described as a “Morisco”, being “of mixed heritage and a strange colour”. The usage of the word “morisco” at the time carried two possible meanings. It was used to refer to both descendants of Muslims who remained in Spain after the reconquest, and to refer to the offspring of a Spaniard and a mulatto.

Black History Month Icon #3 - Juan de Pareja

Juan de Pareja 

Juan de Pareja was born in 1610 to Moorish slaves. De Pareja was bestowed to famed Spaniard painter Diego Velázquez in a will. De Pareja acted as Velázquez's assistant  in his studio,  grinding pigments and stretching canvases. Velázquez noticed Juan’s talent for painting and took him under his wing perfecting his techniques and skill. 

 While de Pareja was Velázquez’s slave, he was treated with the utmost respect. He traveled with Velázquez Velázquez to Italy to help acquire Venetian paintings for the King of Spain. Unfortunately there are many negative myths surrounding Velázquez and de Pareja’s relationship. Some have said that Velázquez refused to teach de Pareja painting and learned from watching him; de Pareja was able to showcase his art to the King of Spain and convinced him to free him. But Velázquez loved de Pareja, enough to manumit him in 1654 and allow him to make a living through his art.    Velázquez even painted a portrait of de Pareja, and hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I always loved this painting because it showed de Pareja with dignity and respect. Other Black art subjects of the time were treated as exotic others, and not with the same respect and care as other art subjects were. Painted in Rome, it was displayed publicly beneath the portico of the Pantheon in March 1650. Velázquez clearly intended to impress his Italian colleagues with his unique artistry. Indeed we are told that the picture “gained such universal applause that in the opinion of all the painters of the different nations everything else seemed like painting but this alone like truth”.      According to legend, on an occasion when Velázquez’s patron, the king of Spain, was due to visit, Pareja placed one of his own paintings where it would be seen by him. When the king came across it, Pareja threw himself at the king’s feet, told him how he had learned to paint without his master’s knowledge, and begged him to intercede on his behalf. The king voiced the opinion that “any man who has this skill cannot be a slave,” at which point Velázquez had little option but to grant Pareja his freedom. 

Another version of events has Pareja being given the gift of his freedom in return for his friendship and support following the death of Velázquez’s wife. In any event, Juan de Pareja became a painter in his own right and was freed by Velázquez in 1654. He  stayed on in Velázquez’s studio, painting openly and quickly becoming an artist of considerable talent.   In 1966 Elizabeth Borton de Treviño wrote I, Juan de Pareja. This  as a historical fiction novel about de Pareja won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children’s literature in 1966.

As LCT3's production of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced opens, we see an artist completing a portrait of her husband in their Upper East Side apartment.  He poses stiffly for her, and she compares him, admirably, to Juan de Pareja, the subject of the magnificent Velazquez portrait at the Met.  Both men are defiant, she says, and resist the artist’s gaze to emerge as authoritative personalities.

What’s most remarkable to me about the painting she references is the discordance between the subject and the medium: the presence of a black man in a seventeenth-century oil painting.  De Pareja, as depicted here, appears not only defiant but complex, in a way that black men aren't typically depicted in any media, not even today.  De Pareja is sometimes described as the artist's servant or apprentice but he was actually a slave Velazques inherited from his aunt.  Velazquez taught De Pareja to paint (the Prado has two de Pareja canvases in its collection), brought him along when he visited Italy, and finally freed him in 1650, around the time this painting was completed.  Velazquez could be a merciless portraitist, describing individuals with a lacerating optical fidelity that was streaked with contempt.  He was particularly critical of royal subjects, whose flesh often seems lifeless and faces often seem witless.  But one senses in de Pareja's face alertness, directness, wariness and pride, as if he is a man of the world.  The gentle light and soft-as-breath brushstrokes are ennobling.  The compassion Velazquez extends to his slave in this portrait is one he extended similarly to many of the commoners, children and dwarves he painted.  Perhaps it was simpler for him, somehow, to see humanity in those less powerful than himself.

Velazquez, Portrait of Juan de Pareja, 1650.