The events all take place during the first half of the seventeenth century, at first in Seville and later in Madrid, where Velazquez and King Philip live. Twice, Velazquez and Pareja visit Italy to buy art for their king. The people of Seville live in constant fear of the plague; Pareja's first owners die from the plague, and he nearly succumbs, too. His first mistress's nephew, Don Diego, inherits him, and Pareja is sent to Madrid to live with his new owners. Madrid is an exciting place, the center of an empire. Here, Pareja lives with Don Diego's family in a house that has a room open to most of the day's sunlight. In that room, Don Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez has his painting studio, and young Pareja learns to care for the artist's paints and other work materials. When Velazquez becomes painter to the king, he moves his work to a studio in the palace; again, it is a room with much sunlight during the day. As their relationship changes from that of master and slave to that of trusted friends, Pareja becomes Velazquez's indispensable assistant. When the king commissions him to journey to Italy and buy art for the palace, Velazquez takes Pareja with him. The two men are impressed by the masterworks of such artists as Michelangelo. On their first trip, they find that the society of art patrons is closed to them, but on their second trip, Pareja and Velazquez break into Italy's artistic society, and Velazquez wins high praise as a great portrait painter.

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