Juan de Pareja, Antequera 1606 - 1670 Madrid
Juan de Pareja began his life as the enslaved assistant of Velázquez. Born in 1606 in Antequera, in the province of Malaga, Pareja was of mixed race; his mother was a Moor, while his father was Spanish. Spain was a prolific slave-trading nation, and in the seventeenth century most artists owned one or two slaves. Grinding colours and stretching canvases in the workshop of Velázquez, court painter to the king, Pareja formed his ambition to become a painter. Just months after depicting a proud and confident Pareja in his virtuoso portrait (1650, now Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Velázquez signed a contract of manumission liberating him from bondage. From that point forward, Pareja worked as an independent painter. In a society obsessed with pure lineage and hostile towards Jews, Muslims, converts, and those of mixed race, Pareja’s success is remarkable. Only a handful of paintings by Pareja are known today. The most accomplished, the Calling of Saint Matthew now in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, includes a self-portrait.