Acquisition Highlight: Juan de Pareja’s Dog with a Candle and Lilies

Last August, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields acquired Juan de Pareja’s painting Dog with a Candle and Lilies.  The acquisition strengthens the museum’s European collection and furthers Newfields’ commitment to expand the collection with works by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and underrepresented artists. Dr. Kjell Wangensteen, Associate Curator of European Art, answers a few questions to give us a better understanding of this work, its importance for the IMA’s collection, and addresses a few exciting discoveries.  


Who was Juan de Pareja? 

KW: Unfortunately, we still know relatively little about Pareja, but it seems that he was multiracial and was born into slavery in Málaga, Spain around 1607. By 1638, Pareja was in Madrid, enslaved to the eminent painter Diego Velazquez, and worked in his studio for years grinding pigments and stretching canvases. Velázquez formally granted Pareja his freedom in 1650, and the former slave eventually became an accomplished painter himself.   


Are there any Pareja paintings guests might recognize? 

KW: Though his paintings are still not widely known, Pareja is perhaps best known today for the vibrant and sympathetic portrait that Velázquez painted of his former slave, which now hangs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 


Why is this painting, Dog with a Candle and Lilies, important? 

KW: Because we have so few known examples of Pareja’s work (only about a dozen, give or take), each newly attributed work adds to our knowledge about his influences and working technique. Though it bears Pareja’s signature, this work was generally unknown to scholars until it came up for auction in Florence in October 2019. 


How does it fit into the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s collection? 

KW: The IMA has an impressive European collection, with important works by Spanish masters from the 12th century though the 20th. Prior to this acquisition, however, the IMA collection was lacking a work by the great 17th century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez or a member of his circle. Though it is a fragment from a larger religious work, it also allows us to fill in a significant gap in our collection: Spanish still-life painting.  In acquiring a work by Juan de Pareja, whose mother was probably of African descent, we are also diversifying our European collection by acquiring a work by an artist of color. 


What does the iconography tell us about this piece? 

KW: Based on the iconography of the dog holding a candle, lilies and a globe, we suspect this painting is a fragment of a larger work depicting St. Dominic (c. 1170 – 1221). According to legend, while Dominic’s mother was pregnant, she dreamed that she would give birth to a dog who would hold a torch in its mouth and would “set fire to the whole fabric of the world.” Thus, numerous 17th century depictions of St. Dominic show him accompanied by a dog with a candle in its mouth. 


How has the IMA balanced the unknowns about this piece with the facts? 

KW: In our exhibition of the painting, called Juan de Pareja: A Painter’s Story, we grappled with the fact that we know so little about Pareja’s life outside of the stories told by the 18th century author Antonio Palomino.  In his chronicle of the lives of Spanish painters, entitled Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors, Palomino relates several interesting but uncorroborated and possibly false tales. The exhibition deals critically with Palomino’s perspective while incorporating the factual details of Pareja’s life gleaned from other sources. 


Since this painting had never been published before, how was it authenticated? 

KW: The authentication process was a long one and involved a lot of careful research. This involved looking closely at other known examples of Pareja’s work, examining archival documents, and talking to other curators and scholars of Spanish art. Once I was satisfied that the work was almost certainly by Pareja, we moved quickly to finalize the acquisition. 


The conservation department made an exciting discovery during the authentication process, can you tell us more about that? 

KW: Yes! Our Senior Conservation Scientist Dr. Greg Smith was able to use our new scanning MA-XRF machine (you can read Roxy Sperber’s recent article on it here) to detect the head of another dog in the painting, underneath the blue orb in the lower left corner. This is almost certainly a change that Pareja made while painting the work, in which he decided to move the dog upwards and to the right, and then painted over the initial dog. This aspect of the work was probably known only to Pareja and had remained a secret for more than 360 years until it was uncovered using cutting-edge technology. 


When can people see this piece? 

KW: You can see it now! This painting is highlighted in Juan de Pareja: A Painter’s Story in The Davis Lab on Floor 2 of the IMA Galleries and will be on view for several months. It is included with general admission and free to members, but advance General Admission tickets are required for everyone.