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In 1648, as court painter to Philip IV of Spain, Diego Velázquez was sent to Rome to purchase works of art. Velázquez brought with him Juan de Pareja, a slave, who served as an assistant in the artist's workshop. During his stay in Rome, Velázquez executed an oil portrait of Juan de Pareja.
Velázquez painted the portrait of Juan de Pareja, who was of Moorish descent, in his workshop, as an exercise in preparation for his official portrait of Pope Innocent X. The Pope, a ruddy-faced man who would be depicted in the bright pink and crimson robes of his office, presented a tricky study in both color and composition. Additionally, since he would be executing a portrait from life, Velázquez would be forced to work quickly while still capturing the essence of the pope's character.
The "Juan de Pareja" reflects Velázquez's exploration of the difficulties he would encounter in the Pope's portrait. To compensate for a restricted palette of colors, Velázquez adopted a loose, almost impressionistic style of brushwork to bring an intense vitality to his subject. Juan de Pareja (circa 1610 – 1670) became an artist in his own right, and in 1654 he was freed by Velázquez.
The Portrait of Juan de Pareja was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in 1971. At the time, the purchase price of over $5.5 million set a new record for paintings at auction. (The above information is from Wikipedia.) The hefty price tag tends to blind the viewer's eyes from truly seeing the portrait. During the three-week-long study of its detail of head and shoulders, I was mesmerized by Velazquez's brushstrokes and his penetration of the subject's intelligence.