At the Prado

Contemplating Velásquez’s portrait of El bufón don Sebastián de Morra at the Prado in Madrid, Dalrymple’s favorite art museum:

Velásquez’s great painting invites us (at the very least) to see what might not have been obvious in his own, very hard and cruel times, namely that dwarves are not to be dismissed or treated as intrinsically inferior or objects of amusement merely because of the stature and bodily peculiarities. But are we right to read into it don Sebastián’s humiliation? Might he not, if we had been able to ask him, have replied ‘It is all very well for you to sympathise with my plight and thus feel virtuous yourselves, but being a jester at the court of one of the mightiest monarchs in the world gives me at least an honourable and comfortable place in the world, at least compared to any possible alternative.’ And if we were to reply to this, ‘It is the world, then, that needs changing, it need to become stature-blind as it is supposed to be colour-blind,’ he might reply ‘That is all very well, but I cannot wait and have my living to earn, besides which who are you to tell me whether I am or ought to be humiliated?’

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