Juan de Pareja (1606–1670)

Diego Velázquez1650/1650

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Velázquez painted some of his most vibrant and animated portraits while in Italy from 1649 to 1650. This one was most likely executed in Rome during the early months of 1650 and was first exhibited in March of that year. The subject, Juan de Pareja, was the artist's enslaved assistant. In this landmark of Western portraiture, Velázquez developed an astonishing unity between the chromatic subtlety of his palette and the extraordinary application and layering of the paint. According to one of the artist's biographers, when the portrait was first put on display it "received such universal acclaim that in the opinion of all the painters of different nations everything else seemed like painting but this alone like truth." Months after depicting his sitter in such a proud and confident way, Velázquez signed a contract of manumission that would liberate him from bondage in 1654. From that point forward, Juan de Pareja worked as an independent painter in Madrid.

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