Heart Views

: 2009  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 84-

Dwarf sitting on the floor

Rachel Hajar 

Correspondence Address:
Rachel Hajar

How to cite this article:
Hajar R. Dwarf sitting on the floor.Heart Views 2009;10:84-84

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Hajar R. Dwarf sitting on the floor. Heart Views [serial online] 2009 [cited 2023 Dec 6 ];10:84-84
Available from: https://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2009/10/2/84/63758

Full Text


 Dignity in Disablility

"Laugh not at a blind man, nor tease a dwarf."

Ancient Egypt

The portrait, Sebastian de Morra, was painted by Diego Velasquez, the court painter to Philip IV of Spain. Velasquez is considered the greatest Spanish painter of all time. His paintings are famous for their realism and attention to detail.

In Velasquez's portrait of de Morra, the subject looks directly, steadily, and intently at the viewer. His hands are balled up, fists clenched. His whole demeanor is one of defiance. One can see that the arms and legs are extremely short in proportion to his torso and his forehead is prominent, seeming to bulge. He is a dwarf. The features of dwarfism are realistically captured by the painter. But more than the physical realism of the painting, Velasquez is able to convey an elusive quality - dignity. De Morra is portrayed with his whole little body occupying the canvas, wearing a fine red robe decorated in gold, with a lace collar and his beard and moustache are fashionably trimmed. He is sitting on the floor with his short and stumpy legs pointing forward in an inelegant position. But de Morras's penetrating gaze, his fierce but wistful expression and stillness contrasts and offsets the inelegant posture. His angry eyes dare us to look on him as, a freak. He is a man. One senses his poise and self-esteem - his dignity - and the viewer feels his anguish, that of a man trapped in a child's body. The dwarf is tragic, but Velasquez has portrayed him with humanity; to be tragic is to be human, therefore the dwarf is not to be pitied or seen as inferior.

In days gone by, when nations were ruled by kings, dwarfs were part of courtly life. They were employed as jesters and provided entertainment and amusement in the courts of Africa, Asia, and Europe. They were faithful servants and served their masters loyally. They were indulged, exploited, traded and sent as gifts, like pets. Although they were frequently showered with gifts of jewelry, gold and silver, and elegant clothing, they were often treated with insensitivity and suffered many humiliations. A few attained fame or notoriety for their wit and their exposure of the human vices and follies of their masters. A story is told of a colorful Spanish court dwarf who was murdered for his insolence. As he lay dying, one of his noble friends approached him and solemnly asked the dwarf to pray for him on entering heaven. The wit and jester in the dwarf replied, "Tie a string around my finger so that I don't forget."

Representations of dwarfs can be found in the art of different societies and cultures. Historically, they have been labeled as "freaks", "curiosities", and "oddities." They have been collected as pets, displayed as spectacles, and treated as comic relief. Throughout the centuries, dwarfs were not integrated into the society, except in ancient Egypt where dwarfs were highly valued because they were believed to enjoy a special relationship with the gods. Other cultures such as ancient Greece were not so benevolent towards dwarfs. Aristotle, in his De Partibus Animalium, associated dwarfs with animals and children, viewing them as "inferior beings." In the Renaissance courts of Europe, dwarfs were employed for the amusement of the nobility and to show off wealth and importance.

Medical advances and social changes have led to better understanding of the plight of dwarfs and other groups with disabilities. The great painter Velasquez understood the human condition in a way that we in the modern world are just beginning to perceive.