The Indianapolis Museum of Art has acquired the work The Hound of Saint Dominic by Juan de Pareja. 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.
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.
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.