My sixteen year old grandson recommended this book by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino, which tells story of Juan de Pareja as a first person account. It took place in Spain and Italy during the mid-seventeenth century. Juan was a slave of African decent and tells of the hardship of slavery and proverty during that time. After being passed from person to person and periods of fending for himself as a child, he finds his home with a kind Master and Mistress, who is a leading portrait artist in all of Spain. Juan is a kind and good person, in spite of the injustice of slavery. He is a devout Christian as most people were Catholic at that time in Europe. The intrinsic quality and strength of character possessed by Juan allows him to be happy and positive, rather than bitter, resentful and filled with hate. He recognizes that all people are the same in the eyes of God and he becomes surrounded by kind people like himself.
His support and service to the great artist, brings him into contact with the king of Spain and travels across Europe to Italy. It is an incredible story with some embellishment of details to bring life to the story. Racial distinctions and even the word “slavery” are taboo in our politically correct society, but this book tells the true story of a black slave which is encouraging uplifting and interesting.
Fine art becomes more than just the occupation of the Master artist and his assistant. Throughout the book we learn about painting from superficial aspects of fabricating colors, stretching canvas and brushes, to the artists study of light, techniques, processes, and artistic philosophy. This book is a goldmine of inspiration for the painter and the tidbits of truth are delivered in character dialog and events to make them relevant to all. Another interesting feature of this real story is the reality of death, illness and sorrow. In our modern society we can become spoiled expecting our friends and family to live to old age and avoid poverty’s desperation. However, life in 1658 was different, people commonly died of rather minor illnesses, injuries and childbirth. Moreover, many children never reached adulthood. The society of that age was not opposed to Christian influence, but saw its practices and traditions as sources of improvement, enlightenment, stability and industry. Christian virtues such as honesty, diligent work, trustworthiness, respect and honor were welcomed and recognized as critical to a prosperous and sound society. These perspectives give the book a fresh realism that history revisionist are working to hide. My grandson and I both enjoyed this book.