Artist: Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez) (Spanish, Seville 1599–1660 Madrid)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 32 x 27 1/2 in. (81.3 x 69.9 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Fletcher and Rogers Funds, and Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), by exchange, supplemented by gifts from friends of the Museum, 1971
Accession Number: 1971.86
Juan de Pareja was born in Antequera, in the province of Malaga, three years before the expulsion of the Moors from the city. His mother was a Moor, his father Spanish. He was thus of mixed race, enslaved, and was evidently inherited by Velázquez, who likely employed him doing menial tasks, such as grinding colors, in the studio. Pareja accompanied Velázquez to Italy in 1649–51. The year this astonishing picture was painted, Velázquez signed papers freeing Pareja within four years. The portrait was put on public display in March 1650, when, we are told, it "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." That Velázquez chose a portrait of his proud, enslaved assistant for his public debut in Rome seems remarkable. Pareja later enjoyed a reputation as an independent artist, though he painted in a style notably different from that of Velázquez.