Juan de Pareja was a real-life slave of Diego Velazquez, the famous Spanish painter of the 17th century. At that time, it was illegal for slaves to paint. Secretly, however, Juan watches Velazquez and experiments with his techniques, painting. Juan is able, in time, to become free and to marry and to set his wife free as well.
Slavery, freedom, truth in art—these are the great themes of this book.
“I thought Art should be Beauty,” he (an apprentice to Velazquez) muttered.
“No, Cristobal,” (replied Velazquez) “Art should be Truth; and Truth, unadorned, unsentimentalized, is Beauty….I would rather paint exactly what I see, even if it is ugly, perfectly, than indifferently paint something superficially lovely.”