No sun today.
Last weekend my daughter, Moogie, the one who is at NYU, called. She was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Did you find it?" I asked. "Not yet, but I'm looking."
"It" is a painting by the great Spanish artist Diego Velasquez. Velasquez was the court painter to the Spanish King Phillip IV in the mid 1600's. He's the guy who painted family portraits and captured "everyday" family and court scenes of the Spanish court. He painted portraits of the "little people" that the king collected (I know, weird and sad). At one point he went on an art buying trip to Italy for the king, and while he was there, he wanted to get some portrait business for himself. He painted a portrait of his slave, Juan de Pareja, and had de Pareja take it around to wealthy people to show how great a portrait painter Velasquez was. He got a commission to paint the Pope. That painting, the one of Juan de Pareja, is the "it" that Moogie was looking for.
A while ago, I decided to do a series of poems about art. This portrait is one of the art pieces I chose. I did a bunch of research on the artist and the subject. I reread (having read it when I was a child) the Newberry Award winning book, I, Juan de Pareja, by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. And then I spent about a month writing and rewriting a poem.
As Velasquez's slave, de Pareja helped in the art studio. He was educated, so knew how to read and write, and in the studio learned all the pieces of how to paint, building the frames, stretching the canvases, making the pigments, mixing the colors, making and taking care of the brushes.. He traveled with Velasquez. They became friends. de Pareja began to paint. But, that was illegal, for a slave to paint. So, Velasquez freed both de Pareja and his wife. Paintings by de Pareja can be found in museums in Europe including the Museum de Prado in Madrid, Spain.
The poem I wrote won the grand prize for poetry at the Whidbey Island Writer's Retreat, and was published in Cricket Magazine. I had never seen the portrait. I knew it was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but, I had never had a chance to find it. For some reason, the one time I had been to New York as an adult, we went to the Guggenheim instead.
A few minutes after the phone call, I received a text from Moogie.
To Juan de Pareja on the painting by Diego Velasquez
by C. A. Losi
I painted you all in brown, unadorned
but for simple collar edged in lace, worn
over brown wool as plain and tough
as the slave you once were. Your rough
brown hand, comfortable with book,
hammer and brush, rests unaccustomedly still. You look
straight from the canvas through brown eyes,
steady as your heart, strong as our friendship, and wise.
And, since art is truth, I painted your brown
hair curling round your head like a halo, or a crown.
shaping the planet with great art.