Portrait of Juan de Pareja

Diego Velázquez (1650)

The Spanish artist took this morisco slave with him on his visit to Rome to acquire art for the King of Spain (pre Ashley Giles) and to paint Pope Innocent X, and is said to have used this as preparation for the big papal gig. De Pareja is very much a man rather than his status, though, the garments airy and real, and the hand almost impressionistic in the strokes of its implied dynamism as it emerges. Most vividly, though, look at the face: nobility, sorrow, and unflinching humanity. Were drawn to its luminous warmth and the commanding, direct gaze, which speak not of a relationship of master and slave, but of intimate friendship (not long after this was painted, he was freed) and profound empathy. Its a subversive move in 1650 to give such a man such dignity, even power, in a picture, and in giving us something of such uncanny realism, Velazquez offers something even better: human truth and a glimpse of a better world than his own.