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The Art of JAMA
July 17, 2013

Juan de Pareja: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

JAMA. 2013;310(3):236-237. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5211

Juan de Pareja (circa 1610–1670) was born a slave in Antequera, near Málaga, Spain, and learned to paint in the service of the master portraitist Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660). It was illegal in Spain for slaves to paint pictures, but they were permitted to assist free painters by grinding pigments and preparing canvases. Pareja therefore had ample opportunity to study Velázquez’s technique and overhear the advice he gave to his apprentices. But it is one thing to understand how a painting is made, and quite another to develop the skill and artistry of a painter. Pareja must have spent hundreds of hours sketching and painting on his own, probably in secret to avoid putting his master in a difficult legal situation. After Velázquez freed him in 1654, Pareja could paint openly, and he received commissions for portraits and religious scenes, such as The Calling of St Matthew (1661), which today is part of the collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid. In this painting of Christ calling Matthew to be his disciple, Pareja painted his own likeness into the background, just as his teacher Velázquez included himself among the subjects of his masterpiece, Las Meninas (1656). Few details are known of the lives of Pareja or Velázquez—neither man was in the habit of writing things down—but the author Elizabeth Borton de Treviño fleshes out the circumstances in her fictionalized biography, I, Juan de Pareja.