On the basis of precious few facts from the artist’s lifetime, nineteenth-century authors with varying agendas wove stories around Juan de Pareja, the seventeenth-century Afro-Hispanic painter who was enslaved by Diego Velázquez for some two decades. Before the opening of Paris’s Galerie espagnole in 1838, writers hewed closely to Pareja’s first biography, published in Antonio Palomino’s El museo pictórico y escala óptica (1715–24). Thereafter, however, fanciful plot twists and cameo appearances by other historical characters, notably Peter Paul Rubens, became part of tales relayed in the popular press, from newspapers and magazines to children’s books, language primers, and plays. This essay focuses on the origins of particularly persistent threads in this extensive body of previously unexamined narratives and considers how such dynamic fabulation intersected with abolitionist agendas, popular illustrations of Pareja’s life, and seventeenth-century works of art.

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