Francesco Fontebasso was a pupil of Sebastiano Ricci and spent a brief period of time in Rome before returning to his native Venice, where he produced a series of engravings after Ricci's paintings. He was soon in some demand as a fresco painter. In 1734 he decorated the ceiling of the church of the Gesuiti in Venice, and in 1736 painted a fresco cycle for the church of the Annunziata in Trento. He also worked for members of the Venetian aristocracy such as the Barbarigo family, for whom he painted decorative frescoes in the Palazzo Duodo and the Palazzo Barbarigo. In 1761 Fontebasso visited St. Petersburg at the invitation of the Empress Catherine II. He remained there for almost two years, completing a number of decorative projects for the Winter Palace and other Imperial palaces, as well as painting numerous portraits and genre scenes. Although he was appointed a Professor at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, Fontebasso chose to return to Venice in 1762. He became a Professor at the Accademia Veneziana, rising to the position of Principle in 1768.
As a history painter, Fontebasso's works recall Ricci in composition, an example of which can be found in The Royal Collection, Kensington Palace, The Magdalen Anointing Christ's Feet.