In Disgraced, Emily’s portrait of her husband Amir in the style of Diego de Silva y Velázquez’s 1650 Portrait of Juan de Pareja becomes one of the central images of the play. The Seville-born Velázquez (1599-1660) is regarded as one of the finest painters of the Baroque period. Although he was not born into a noble family, Velázquez gained status in his role as the court painter for King Philip IV of Spain—a responsibility in which he took immense pride.
The painting of Velázquez’s assistant Juan de Pareja represents a more personal side of the artist’s work. Velázquez created the painting during a trip to Italy in preparation for his commissioned portrait of Pope Innocent X. Like Velázquez, the Moorish Pareja was born in the Andalusia region of Spain. Pareja likely served as Velázquez’s slave and was freed in 1654. Some sources dispute Pareja’s slave status, however, as he was registered as a painter—a profession prohibited to slaves—as early as 1630.
Velázquez’s portrait of Pareja possesses an informality and unique intimacy likely due to their close relationship. Art historians commend this painting for its incredible lifelike quality. In the portrait, Pareja gazes directly at the viewer, which gives him an inherent strength. Velázquez adds to this commanding presence through his use of color. The overall gray tones in the painting contrast with the warmer tones of Pareja’s face, placing emphasis on the central figure. Above all, the portrait conveys an overwhelming sense of human dignity. Velázquez treats Pareja with the same respect and solemnity that we see in his royal portraits, with the addition of a more personal touch not found in these other works. In Disgraced, Emily likely identifies with the overarching sense of humanity that Velázquez endows in his portrait of Pareja, and it is this same quality that she hopes to emulate in her painting of her husband.