Juan de Pareja
The painting of Velázquez’s assistant and slave, Juan de Pareja, was painted during his third trip to Italy, in preparation for his commissioned portrait of Pope Innocent X. Velázquez’s portrait of Pareja possesses an informality and unique intimacy witnessing to their close relationship. Pareja later painted a copy of this portrait in The Calling of Matthew.
Pope Innocence X
Velázquez was commissioned to paint his portrait by the Pope himself on his last visit to Italy. Pope Innocent X, aged seventy-five, was known for his violent temper. When he first viewed the completed work, he said ‘troppo vero’ (‘too truthful’) He was not happy that his soul was so exposed. Later, realizing the paintings lasting value, he changed his mind presenting Velázquez with a gold medal of appreciation.
This painting is the only known nude painted by Velázquez. Such exposures were frowned on by the church; other painters had come before the Inquisition for such works. Venus’ reflection in the mirror has been over-painted; blurred, perhaps, to protect the sitter from scrutiny.
The Rokeby Venus is first recorded in 1651 in the collection of the Marques del Carpio, the son of the then valido, first minister of Spain. Most likely it would have hung in a private location in his house to avoid censure of the Spanish Inquisition.
This canvas inspired my historical novel about the adult life of Diego Velázquez. Clearly all feel comfortable conversing amidst diverse goings-on that seem devoid of the formalism one might expect in audience with the Royals. Velázquez holds his mahla, palette and charged brush. The mirror holds the reflection of King Phelipe IV of Spain, and his second wife and niece, Queen Mariana. In the center, stands their daughter, the feisty princess Margarita. She is attended by her maids, Isabel de Velasco offering the princess a drink, and Maria Agustina Sarmiento, curtsying. Two of the court dwarfs are here, Nicolásico Pertusato, with his foot on the mastiff, and the out of sorts Mari-Bárbola. Behind Maria Agustina, in conversation, is Dona Marcela de Ulloa and Diego Ruiz de Azona the princess' guardadamas. José Velázquez Neito, the queen's quartermaster is seen departing the lively gathering.