Setting

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 261

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.

Literary Qualities

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Just as Velazquez advocates an artistic truthfulness that reveals the inner life of the subject as well as the outward appearance, I, Juan de Pareja presents inner truths as well as accurate historical facts. In her Newbery Award acceptance speech, Trevino declared, "I, Juan de Pareja tells a story I learned, loved, and researched many years before it was written." Her careful research shows everywhere. Seville and its people are colorfully portrayed; life in Madrid is presented in complex detail, creating the sense that Trevino herself visited the city and knew the people. The careful reconstruction of seventeenth-century Spain provides a realistic backdrop for the events of Pareja's life.

This well-constructed backdrop adds depth and believability to the novel's main characters. Trevino transcends the facts of history to examine the humanity of the people who made that history. Little is known about Velazquez's and Pareja's actual personalities, but the author constructs well-rounded characters from the skeletal facts available to her. Pareja narrates the novel from a perspective many years after Velazquez's death, when Pareja has become an esteemed painter himself. Although his narration makes him the novel's protagonist, Pareja shares much of the action with Velazquez, who is portrayed as idealistic and somewhat unworldly; although an artistic genius, he needs the level-headed Pareja to look after him. When Velazquez can find no work in Rome, Pareja saves him by boldly carrying Velazquez's portrait of him to art patrons. The resemblance between the painting and Pareja is so striking that the art patrons commission portraits of themselves, and Velazquez becomes celebrated even in Rome as a master portraitist.

Trevino mentions many paintings during her story. These are not reproduced in the book, but a good look at copies of them will enhance the reading experience. For instance, one look at Velazquez's portrait of Pareja explains Trevino's interpretation of him as a special man. His eyes are strikingly bold and uncompromising; his bearing expresses his mastery over his own life. The rich colors and the delicate highlights make Pareja seem to project out from the surface of the painting. Trevino also depicts the events—some speculative—surrounding the creation of other paintings.

Enrico Arno's cover illustration for I, Juan de Pareja has stimulated the interest of art critics. Most admire its bold presentation through strong colors and forceful figures. It represents Trevino's own solution to the mystery of how the cross of a Knight of Santiago came to be painted on Velazquez's self-portrait after his death. King Philip, repenting that he had not honored Velazquez by naming him a Knight of Santiago, confers the honor posthumously, and Pareja guides his hand as he paints the cross on Velazquez's chest.

Social Sensitivity

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I, Juan de Pareja is unrelenting in its portrayal of both the harsh and the fascinating aspects of seventeenth-century Spain. The author depicts Carmelo's cruelty and the many humiliations of slavery, including the treatment of Pareja as a plaything. The straightforward presentations of unpleasant scenes never approach sensationalism. The point that slavery is a cruel and terrible life seems worth the emphasis Trevino's honest portrayal gives it, and the novel's theme of love tempers the cruelty.

The religious issues of I, Juan de Pareja may trouble some readers. The Catholic church is primarily shown in a positive light, and Pareja's religious faith serves as a source of strength in his hard life. Those who object to religious themes in their children's readings might object to this novel because religion is pervasive in the characters' lives. But religion's enormous influence on the daily life of seventeenth-century Spain is historical fact, and Trevino could hardly leave it out and maintain her novel's historical accuracy. Others might be distressed by some of the cruelty associated with religion, particularly the use of a dying man for Medina's depiction of Christ's crucifixion. The piety with which the crucifixion was committed and the victim's supposed consent may lead some readers to feel that their own faith is being criticized. Teachers should be prepared for questions about the depiction of Medina's methods; pointing out that it is historically accurate may stimulate some discussion of the role of religion in seventeenth-century Spain.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 303

Brown, Dale, et al. The World of Velazquez, 1599-1660. 1969. Rev. ed. New York: Time-Life, 1972. Reproduces many of Velazquez's paintings, tells about his life and times, and analyzes some of his work. A good introduction, but it says little about Pareja.

Costello, Clare. "Elizabeth Borton de Trevino." School Library Journal (March 1966): 126-127. An editor for the publishers of I, Juan de Pareja, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Costello summarizes Trevino's life and accomplishments up to 1966.

De Montreville, Doris, and Donna Hill, eds. Third Book of Junior Authors. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1972. In an autobiographical sketch, Trevino tells of her life and of her research for her books for young readers.

Kingman, Lee, ed. Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1966-1975. Boston: Horn Book, 1975. Contains a transcript of Trevino's Newbery Award acceptance speech as well as a character study of the author by her friend Ross Parmenter.

Kirkpatrick, D. L., ed. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. New York: St. Martin's, 1978. Provides a bibliography of Trevino's books and a brief critical summary of her writings for young readers.

Trevino, Elizabeth B. de. The Hearthstone of My Heart. New York: Doubleday, 1977. Trevino's memoirs tell of her childhood and of her development as a writer.

"A Message from Elizabeth Borton Trevino." New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. A publicity flier in which the author tells about her books and her purposes for writing them. This and other research materials were supplied by Lelia Wardwell of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

My Heart Lies South: The Story of My Mexican Marriage. New York: Crowell, 1953. Trevino sees herself as an independent-minded reporter who had to adjust to life as a genteel Mexican wife. Her love for Mexico is ever present.

Where the Heart Is. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974. More about her marriage and her experiences in Mexico. Tells of her spiritual growth.

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