BLACK ARTISTS, BLACK MODELS: A Selling ExhibitionLondon
Juan de Pareja
The Hound of Saint Dominic, ca. 1660s
This recently rediscovered painting is a significant addition to the works of Juan de Pareja, an extraordinary figure who began life as a slave, secured his freedom, and forged a successful artistic career in seventeenth-century Spain. Pareja is perhaps best known from the superb portrait painted by his master Diego Velázquez around 1650. Acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1970 for a record-breaking price, this landmark of western portraiture inspired amazement in its own time and still today.
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, 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 Juan de Pareja are known today. The most accomplished, the Calling of Saint Matthew now in the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, includes a self-portrait. In this recently discovered canvas, a small hound holding a lit taper in its mouth, a stalk of lilies, and a dark sphere frame the artist’s signature. These are attributes of Saint Dominic, an important figure in the Spanish church. According to legend, Dominic’s mother dreamed that she would give birth to a dog holding a torch in its mouth that would “set fire to the whole fabric of the world.” In Spanish art, Dominic is often accompanied by this hound.
For more about the portrait of Juan de Pareja at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, visit: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437869
Please note that the price and availability of the above work are subject to change without prior notice.