Despite the awful condition Juan was in when Velasquez received him, Velasquez immediately saw through to Juan's intelligence and gentle upbringing. Juan and Diego got along very well, and were said to be close friends.
This is based on information gathered mostly from the book I Juan de Pareja, by E. Trevino. Other sources say Juan de Pareja was not a slave but a servant to Diego Velasquez. Diego Velasquez, master painter of the Baroque Era, and court painter to the king, was not about to let Juan's intelligence go to waste, so he taught Juan how to paint, even though it was illegal at the time to teach a slave the craft. Juan also traveled with Velasquez to Italy on a couple of occasions to study Venetian painting and buy art for the king.
Velasquez was well known for his talent in painting people's souls rather than their social status. When Velasquez worked in the castle he was often around the dwarfs who were used to care for the children and amuse the royals. Velasquez painted portraits of some of these men such as Don Diego de Acedo (El Primo) in 1644 and Sebastian de Morra in 1645. Both of these men were painted with as much dignity as the king received in his portraits. Diego painted their souls so when you look at them you didn't see dwarfs, but two very distinguished looking men.
Velasquez also painted a portrait of Juan de Pareja. In this painting Pareja is turned three quarters to the right. He looks very serious and very dignified as well as very intelligent. By looking at this portrait you would not conclude Pareja was a slave or servant, but looks like an educator. The portrait was sold for 5.5 million dollars to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art from a London auction house. Today there are many known copies of the painting.
The slave trade involved millions of people during this time period. The question is: did it involve Juan de Pareja and Diego Velasquez? Based on where you get your information will determine what you find out. Some sources, like the Encyclopedia Britannica, say Pareja was a servant, but the book I, Juan de Pareja says Pareja was a slave to Velasquez. If the book I, Juan de Pareja is accurate with its information, then Juan de Pareja was born into slavery and lived with his mother as a slave for the first five years of his life, until his mothers death. He then was moved to be with his master's mistress and, following her death, he went on to live with her nephew Diego Velasquez, who taught him the art of painting.
This would make Velasquez indirectly related to the slave trade, which began with Portuguese adventures in 1440, because he would have been a slave owner. Slavery was by no means a new practice in the Iberian peninsula. It had been around since ancient times. Portuguese explorers first captured slaves and saw it as a money making business. Both Negroes, and Indians when the New World was discovered, were captured to be used as slaves. These explorers supplied the Spanish and Portuguese settlements in America with slaves: three-and-a-half million to Brazil, one-and-a-half million to the American South, and over a quarter million to the Caribbean.
De Trevino, Elizabeth Barton. I, Juan de Pareja. New York: Bell Books, 1965."Pareja, Juan de" Britannica Online.
[Accessed 14 March 1998].