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“Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez

"Portrait of Juan de Pareja" by Diego Velázquez

“Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez

The Portrait of Juan by Diego Velázquez is a portrait of Velázquez’s enslaved assistant Juan de Pareja, who was owned by Velázquez at the time the painting was completed. Velázquez painted this portrait in Rome, while was travelling in Italy. It is the earliest known portrait of a Spanish man of African descent.

Diego Velázquez as the court painter to King Philip IV of Spain was sent to Rome to purchase works of art for the King. Velázquez brought with him Juan de Pareja, who served as an assistant and who was of Moorish descent. De Pareja (1606 – 1670 ) was born into slavery in Spain, but he became an artist in his own right, and he was freed in 1650, close to the time of this painting. His 1661 work, The Calling of Saint Matthew, is on display at the Museo del Prado.

Diego Velázquez was the leading artist in the Spanish court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was a unique artist of the contemporary Baroque period. In the early nineteenth century, Velázquez’s artwork became a model for the realist and impressionist painters. More recently modern artists, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

Events during the time of Velázquez

  • 1605 – Don Quixote de la Mancha, the first modern novel was written.
  • 1611 – King James Version of the Bible published in England.
  • 1618 – Thirty Years’ War – Protestants revolt against Catholic rule.
  • 1619 – The first African slaves are brought to Jamestown.
  • 1631 – The Taj Mahal is built in India.
  • 1642 – English Civil War.
  • 1660 – English Parliament calls for the restoration of the monarchy
  • 1664 – The English seize New Amsterdam from the Dutch. The city is renamed New York.


  • Why is this artwork a model for the realist and impressionist painters?
  • Painted before New Amsterdam was seized by the English and renamed New York, yet does this painting belong more to the spirit of New York or New New Amsterdam?

Explore European Paintings in the MET

Portrait of Juan de Pareja

  • Title:                   Portrait of Juan de Pareja
  • Artist:                Diego Velázquez
  • Date:                  1650
  • Medium:          Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  81.3 × 69.9 cm (2.6 × 2.2 ft)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Diego Velázquez

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“A picture is a poem without words”.
– Horace


Photo Credits: 1) Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons