Juan de Pareja was Diego Velázquez's assistant , and the subject of one of his most famous paintings. He also really should be the patron saint of unrecognised artists.
He was the guy who helped in the studio, grinding paint, preparing canvasses, cleaning up. Of course he did all of this for free... Just because he loved it! Just kidding! He did it for free because he was a slave.
Velasquez was considered quite the humanitarian in that he didn't starve, torture or otherwise abuse his slaves, but his kindness didn't extend to allowing the obviously talented de Pareja to paint.
Although this may have been because it was illegal for slaves to paint... Or do anything else that wasn't slaving.
So Juan de Pareja painted in secret. Because you cannot be surrounded by the works of Diego Velázquez all day long and not give it a go.
Velázquez was the official artist to the royal family.
He was the only one who could effectively capture the ridiculousness of their clothes.
One day King Philip IV was Visiting his studio and Juan de Pareja sneaked one of his own paintings into the room.
Just a little thing he threw together.
The king saw the work and asked who had done it, at which point de Pareja and his balls of steel stepped forward and said he had painted it, and asked for official recognition of his talent.
After this appeal the king's head began to vibrate, and smoke came out his ears like an android in a sci fi movie. You see, this did not compute. A slave, who was born a slave because God wanted him to be a slave... Could not be an artist.
The king proclaimed , that a man who painted like that ...Could not be a slave.
And Velasquez had no choice but to free him.
Unfortunately the ''Contract of liberation." Stipulated that he work for four more years for Velasquez. For pay one hopes. Must have been a tense working environment for a while there.
After he left , de Pareja made his living as a professional artist. His work is hard to find but some examples remain.
That steely, defiant glare has a whole new meaning now doesn't it?