Entertainment could be cruel in the European courts. Jesters were entertainers of low birth that amused the royals through their quick wit, mimicry, or in the case of Sebastián de Morra, by being a person with dwarfism. Velázquez’s portrait of Sebastián is striking in its contrasts. Sebastián de Morra was an object of ridicule. His red cape and lace are a parody of courtly fashion, and even his grandiose name was given to him in mockery. He is not standing or seated in a chair, as was customary of 16th century portraiture, but sits on the ground.
While documenting institutionalized ridicule, Velázquez captures a direct and powerful gravitas in the eyes of Sebastián de Morra. Look closely, and Sebastián looks back. And he’s not laughing.