(It has been four months since I last posted. I have 6 books to write about and have told myself I won't finish another book until I've written about these. Of course, it has been a couple of months since I read some of them, but I'll muddle through.)
I, Juan de Pareja is the story of a slave owned by the famous Spanish artist Diego Velazquez in the first half of the 17th century. Velazquez painted for kings and popes and was intense in his work. Juan describes his work with the great master painter and how he, too, began to paint.
At that time it was against the law in Spain for a slave to "practice any of the arts." (p. 125) Juan began painting in secret but always felt that in doing so he in some way betrayed Velazquez. In the end, he confesses his secret to Velazquez and Velazquez writes him papers of manumission (a document declaring the freedom of a slave).
Although little is actually known historically and factually about the two men, the author did a good job imagining the lives of these two men and how they interacted with each other and the society in which they worked. Interesting to note the context of the Newbery award as this book was chosen during the height of the civil rights movement. Children might find the book a bit slow, but I really enjoyed it.
Juan asked Velazquez about why he spent so much time looking before he painted. He answered, "When I sit and look at something I am feeling its shape, so that I shall have it in my fingers when I start to draw the outline. I am analyzing the colors, too. For example, do you see that piece of brocade on the chair? What color is it?'
"Blue," I answered promptly.
"No, Juanico. There is a faint underlay of blue, but there is violet in that blue, the faintest touch of rose and the highlights are red and bright green. Look again."
It was magical, for suddenly I could see them...
"The eye is complicated. It mixes the colors for you...The painter must unmix them and lay them on again shade by shade, and then the eye of the beholder takes over and mixes them again." (p. 45-46)
Velazquez teaching one of his appretices:
"I thought Art should be Beauty," he [the apprentice] muttered.
"No, Cristobal. Art should be Truth; and Truth unadorned, unsentimentalized, is Beauty." (p. 67)
They took a trip to Italy and the voyage by ship was long and unpleasant.
"Still, when we arrived in Genoa, we went first, even before we looked for an inn, to a church to give thanks." (p. 85)
Also on p. 85, "We two, after all, knew each other's company, and could be silent together for many hours without feeling any pangs of solitude."
This is probably my favorite.
"I knelt a long time, for I had much to offer up to God, and I placed before Him countless thoughts, so that He might winnow them like a thresher, leaving me the wheat and blowing away the chaff with the breath of His mercy." (p. 138)
de Trevino, Elizabeth Borton. I, Juan de Pareja. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965.