Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

I, Juan de Pareja
Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

Part of enrichment this year, we are reading about artists.  This month we studied Diego Velásquez.  This children's novel, I, Juan de Pareja, is about life with the painter, told through the narration of his African slave/assistant, Juan de Pareja.  The author took the liberty of improvising details of Velásquez's personal and private life, creating a warm and tender story.  

It begins shortly before Velásquez acquired Juan as his slave and ends after Juan gained his freedom some time before Velásquez died.  While many details are unknown, it is true that Velásquez gave Juan his freedom.  It is also believable that Velásquez was a good-hearted man and that he had a genuine and amiable relationship with Juan, who later worked as Diego's assistant by choice.  

Velásquez painted de Pareja in 1650, the same year he painted Pope Innocent X.

Juan de Pareja
After the death of Velásquez, a red cross of the Order of Santiago was added to his chest in the painting Las Meninas.  Some say it was painted there by King Philip IV, who had retained Velásquez as his court painter and curator for many years; but the author considered that Juan de Pareja may have had something to do with the red cross, by request of the King; we just do not know.  

What we do know is that Velasquez was a humble, gentle man, and one of Europe's greatest masters of art.  This is definitely a worthy read, peeking into the life of the artist and covering the issues, such as slavery, facing Europe during this time period. 

Detail of Velásquez self-portrait, Las Meninas


Sharon Henning said...

Hi Ruth! That is so interesting about Velasquez. I did not know he had a slave. I love reading biographies about artists and it's wonderful that you are immersing you children in art.

Ruth said...

This was a wonderful story.

If you consider the time period for Velasquez, it is understandable that it would have been commonplace to have slaves in Spain. And the author believes, given the character of Velasquez, and that he gave his slave his freedom, and that de Pareja remained his assistance there after, that Velasquez and de Pareja had a genuine relationship nonetheless.