Tag Archives: Painting

Book Review: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

I Juan de Pareja.jpg

I, Juan de Pareja is a historical novel a friend read some time ago and raved about for a while afterward. Recently, I saw the book on the library shelves and thought, I will read this. So I did.

Many people these days like to pick on the United States for a great many things. One of their prime delights is to attack the U.S. on account of slavery, which became illegal after the American Civil War. American slavery, just like most other forms of slavery, was certainly an abomination. This is a fact.

However, what people tend to forget – either through lack of knowledge or by willfully ignoring the facts – is that the U.S. did not start slavery. Slavery existed from the year dot. The Ancient Greeks owned slaves, who had no rights whatsoever under the law. The Ancient Romans had slaves, as did the Ancient Irish and Scandinavians. There is no country on Earth where slavery did not exist at one time or another in some (more or less severe) form.

America inherited the idea of slavery from Europe. By the era of the American Revolution, slavery was dying out in the Old World. Indenturing people as servants – as we saw in the post on Carry On, Mr. Bowditch – died out after slavery. And the fact is slavery still exists today. Asia has a vibrant slave trade, and while slavery is not sanctioned in first world countries, this does not mean there are not people who are held as slaves within these nations.

In the 1600s – when I, Juan de Pareja takes place – slavery was not yet obsolete in Europe. Juan de Pareja was a black slave, the son of a black woman and a white Spaniard who could not afford to buy her. Orphaned at five when his mother died, Juan remained in the house of his mother’s owners, Don Basilio and Doña Emilia Rodríguez.

After Don Basilio’s death, Juan lived with Doña Emilia in Seville until she died some years later. Long before these events, Doña Emilia taught him to read and write. Juan suffered no great torments in the Rodríguez household. According to all reports, he was relatively well-loved by the couple. But on his journey to Doña Emilia’s nephew Don Diego Velázquez, who had inherited him after her death, he was abused by a gypsy hired to take him to Velázquez’s home in Madrid.

Eventually, Juan de Pareja came to Velázquez’s house. Don Velázquez never mistreated Juan. He made the young slave his personal assistant. Juan’s duty was to grind the colors for Velázquez’s paint, to clean the used paint brushes, and to help in the alignment of the objects of the master’s paintings.   For years Juan stood behind Velázquez, watching him paint his masterpieces….

It was not long before the young black boy declared that he would like to paint. “Alas, I cannot teach you,” Don Velázquez replied. A law in Spain had declared that it was illegal for slaves to learn and practice the arts. If Don Velázquez had taken Juan as an apprentice, he would have broken the law and been subject to punishment.

So the years rolled by, and as time went on, the two men became close friends. Wherever Don Velázquez went, Juan followed. This was because of his slave status but, after their years of friendship, it is quite possible that Juan would have stayed with him anyway. On their first trip to Italy, while Velázquez was studying the art of the great painters there and making copies for the Spanish court, Juan started to practice painting covertly.

He carried on practicing secretly in Spain after their return, watching and learning as Don Velázquez continued his work. Eventually, he could bear the secrecy no longer. On an occasion when the King of Spain entered Velázquez’s studio, he found a painting that Juan had made and set out specifically for him to see. Once he had found it, Juan fell on his knees before the king and confessed what he had done, begging no retribution for his master (who had no idea that Juan had been painting behind his back), and saying that he was willing to endure whatever punishment may come from his disobedience to the law.

Was Juan de Pareja punished? You must read the book to learn his fate! Those of you well-versed in the lore of great art probably already know what became of him. But I will spoil no more of the novel for anyone else. Elizabeth Borton de Treviño writes exquisitely, and she describes seventeenth century Spain with great care. Her historical novel is enlightening as she weaves a warm, heartfelt story out of the snippets of recorded fact. A book for all ages, I, Juan de Pareja is certain to touch the heart of any reader out there.

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time


Hi, Meggie,

How is the writing going?  That’s great!

How am I doing?  Well, I’m busier than I would like to be.  But aren’t we all?

I know.  Usually, I write to Murdock about a book I have read.  And if he was not so busy with the rest of the A-Team at the moment, I suppose I would be writing to him.  But he’s out with Hannibal, “on the jazz,” and I don’t know when he’ll be back.  You don’t mind if I write to you since I can’t reach him, do you?

Great!  Let’s get started.

There is a book I know of which you may want to hunt up.  It is called Dinotopia: The Land Apart From Time.  I read it some time ago and have never forgotten it.  The story is not too bad; it is a bit of a cross between The Swiss Family Robinson and The Lost World.

See, in Dinotopia, dinosaurs never became extinct.  After some years of living quietly on the island, they had visitors: humans washed up on the shore after their ships were wrecked.  These vessels either crashed and wrecked on the reef surrounding the island, or were damaged in the storms that encircle Dinotopia 24/7.

Some humans found ways off of Dinotopia.  But most stayed, making a new civilization with the dinosaurs.  This new civilization (like its language) is an amalgamation of all the other known societies on the planet.  The dinosaurs add their own elements to the culture, including their language, known in the story as Saurian.

Yes, you guessed it.  This is a language of chirps, hoots, and any other sounds that dinosaurs can make.  The sounds humans cannot replicate themselves are imitated by other means.

All in all, though, the story is not quite what fascinated me.  Why?  Well, we will have to go back a bit in order for me to explain.

The author of Dinotopia is James Gurney, an artist for National GeographicDinotopia is largely composed of his fantastic paintings and sketches of life in the fictional land of Dinotopia.  He draws the dinosaurs, the landscapes, the people, and the buildings.

This is what stayed with me after reading Dinotopia.  The drawings are not just beautiful; they get the mind whirling with possibilities.  What would it be like to live amidst waterfalls (such as in the Dinotopian metropolis Waterfall City)?  How about making a bridge designed after a dinosaur’s (or other vertebrate’s) backbone?  What about making gliders designed to resemble real flying creatures?

This is what stayed with me.  The artwork often stays with me after reading any kind of fiction, but specifically Dinotopia.  And this makes me ask this question: When was the last time anything was built beautifully?  I do not mean beautifully safe, or beautifully perfect.  I mean beautiful.

Take the example of, say, the Chrysler building.  It is a unique skyscraper with engravings and gargoyles on its outside.  And it has a spire reaching for the sky, almost like a needle at the top of a block tower.  Then there is the Space Needle in Seattle, the Lincoln Memorial, and countless other landmarks around the world.

I have seen a lot of different skyscrapers.  Some are unique in their own way; a few are even beautiful.  But after a while, I feel that if you have seen one skyscraper, you have seen them all.  Over the years skyscrapers have become nothing but pillars of steel and glass.  There is very little to distinguish one skyscraper form the other; very little that makes them anything more than giant metal, glass-encased obelisks.  Cities across the globe are, after a point, full of nothing but glass Lego towers.

Apartment buildings and condominiums have the same problem.  Walking around in such neighborhoods one gets the feeling they are stuck in a world of cardboard boxes.  The buildings on the left side of the street are often (not always, but often) the mirror image of the buildings on the right side of the street.

This lack of individuality, flair, cheerfulness, etc., has not only largely invaded the world of architecture, it has crept into other ways of life, too.  Cars and trucks, for instance, are no longer built for size or beauty.

Now, instead of being spacious and appealing eye-candy, cars and trucks across the country are nearly clones of each other.  One can hardly tell the difference between a Chevy Suburban and a GMC Yukon.  I cannot tell the difference between a Toyota Corolla and most Ford sedans.  Only minute details proclaim the distinction between vehicles, excepting the names on the vehicles’ sides and the emblems blazoned on their grills.

All in all, I cannot help wondering whether or not the people who build the skyscrapers, the architects for those skyscrapers, or the designers for vehicles, have ever read anything other than their handbook materials since they went into business.  They are all buried in a dull anthill pattern of life that simply builds because that is how they win their bread.  There are no longer many personal touches added to the hoards of buildings being constructed presently, nor are designers stamping the vehicles they churn out every day as notable standouts from the crowd.

It is a pattern of these artists own weaving; as such, only they can find a way to change it.

I know that, Meggie.  I am not unsympathetic.  I know that contractors, architects, and designers have to follow safety guidelines.  I certainly would not want someone to build an ‘abstract’ skyscraper, with one floor jutting out to the left and the next one up jutting out to the right.  I definitely do not want to see an apartment complex built to look like a mountain of sludge.  I am not even sure that either suggestion would be geometrically possible.

But there are creative touches that can be applied to these buildings and machines which are within the realm of geometric possibility, and which are within safety guidelines.  There is proof of it all over the world.

As I said, it is a pattern that these artists have chosen to weave for their lives.  If they choose to march in identical uniforms, none but they can change their costumes.  Therefore, I am glad that, in the realm of fiction at least, there are those who choose to weave brighter and better patterns for public consumption.

I have to go.  Maybe we could chat another time?

Wonderful!  See you then!