This fascinating, recently-discovered painting depicts Jacob Trapp VII, with his wife and children. A member of the Trapp von Mätsch, one of the most important aristocratic families of the South Tyrol, Jacob VII undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1561, visiting several parts of the Ottoman Empire. He and his family are shown dressed in fanciful Roman garb which alludes, with the pseudo-antique throne on which he sits, to their prominent standing in the Holy Roman Imperial order. On his head, however, Jacob wears an elaborate, bejewelled turban, a pointed reference to his travels in the Orient. In the left foreground of the painting, and to the right immediately beyond the throne, stand ethnographic types representing the different classes and ethnicities that Jacob would have encountered, possibly copied by the artist from illustrated costume-books such as Cesare Vecellio's De gli habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo (Venice, 1590).
The colonnaded arcade beyond the family group is drawn with precise attention to architectural detail, and recalls prints by the likes of Maarten Heemskerk (1498-1574) and Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-?1606). The Solomonic column at the beginning of the arcade, richly decorated with a relief scene of putti playing in a grape vine, rests on a plinth on which the Trapp von Mätsch arms are precisely emblazoned. The grapes and the phoenix sitting on the base of the column are respectively Christian and classical symbols of immortality, and their alignment with the family arms suggests that the Trapp von Mätsch name will endure through eternity, perpetuated by acts such as Jacob's undertaking of the dangerous trip to Jerusalem, the focal site of all Christendom. In the right middle-ground, the artist has included the Archangel Gabriel helping Tobias on his road home, a scene which traditionally characterises Gabriel as the protector of children--an aspect in which he would have been specially important for a noble family seeking to perpetuate its succession.
It has been suggested by Ludwig Meyer (to whom we are grateful) that this picture is from the hand of Stephan Kessler I (Vienna 1622-1700 Brixen), a 17th-century painter active in the South Tyrol. Kessler, who is known to have worked for the Trapp family, may have painted this picture in a deliberately archaistic style in circa 1660-1662, to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of Jacob VII's trip. We are equally grateful to Professor Elizabeth McGrath for her advice on the iconography of the painting, and to Jan van Helmont for his help with the arms and history of the Trapp von Mätsch.