I, Juan de Pareja

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I, Juan de Pareja
I Juan de Pareja.jpg
Author Elizabeth Borton de Treviño
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication date
June 1965
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 192 pp

I, Juan de Pareja is a novel by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño that won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1966.

The novel is written in the first person as by the title character, Juan de Pareja, a half-African slave of the artist Diego Velázquez, and model for one of Velázquez's most noted paintings, who earns his freedom through his own merits, artistic and otherwise.


Juan is born into slavery in Seville, Spain in the early 1600s, and after the death of his mother when he is just five years old he becomes the pageboy of a wealthy Spanish lady, Emilia.

Diego has a wife, Juana de Miranda, and two little girls, Paquita and Ignacia. Juan's main job is to help his master with his work of painting, preparing the colors, washing the brushes, stretching canvas', etc. However, Juan learns to paint as well, but since slaves in Spain are not allowed to practice any of the arts, his master cannot teach him how.

Soon, two apprentices, Cristobal and Alvaro, join the household to learn from Diego. Juan, whose opinions do not differ from his master and his family's, dislikes Cristobal, but finds Alvaro pleasant enough. However, Cristobal is a much better painter than Alvaro.

Some time later, Diego receives a message from the King of Spain, saying that he has been invited to paint His Majesty's portrait. Thus, he and his family are given permanent living quarters in the palace itself, so they move there, along with Juan and the two apperentices. Juan also accompanies Velazquez to Rome for a portrait of Pope Innocent X, and the portraits of many other Italian noblemen.


  • Painting
  • Royal culture
  • Slavery
  • Black Rights
  • Sacrifice
  • Love


“The author creates a fresh and different approach to biographical fiction. The novel is also an eloquent testimonial to the bonds between races.”—School Library Journal, Starred Review

“This brilliant novel captures and holds the attention from its rhythmic opening sentence—‘I, Juan de Pareja, was born into slavery’—all the way through to the end. . . . A splendid book, vivid, unforgettable.”—The New York Times Book Review [1]

“The book is full of memorable scenes . . . Many paths of interest lead from this original, beautifully written story.”—The Horn Book Magazine

“An excellent novel, written in the form of an autobiography, about the painter Velázquez and his Negro slave and assistant, Juan de Pareja . . . [who] was legally prohibited from painting because he was a slave.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books [1]

This is a sensitive fictional account of the life of Juan de Pareja, a black Spaniard and slave-cum-friend of the painter. Friendship, loyalty, mercy and generosity are beautifully illustrated, and issues of slavery and cruelty are explored with a modern understanding of their evil, but in a way that is not unbelievable in the story's context. Clare Cannon, Portico Books [2]


Preceded by
Shadow of a Bull
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Up a Road Slowly