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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 he was traveling in Italy. It is the earliest known portrait of a Spanish man of African descent.

During Velázquez stay in Rome, he displayed this painting as part of a larger exhibition of paintings at the Pantheon in 1650. The art was applauded by his contemporaries as standing out as a model of realism.

Diego Velázquez

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.

Juan de Pareja

Juan de Pareja (1606 – 1670) was a Spanish painter, born into slavery in Antequera. He was as a member of the household and workshop of painter Diego Velázquez, who freed him in 1650.

Pareja was inherited by Velázquez and became an assistant in his painting after 1631. Juan de Pareja was born into slavery, the son of an enslaved African-descended woman and a white Spanish father.

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.

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


“I’ll never get tired of hearing your sweet words, but I will get tired of not.”
– Diego Velázquez


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