Solemn elegance characterizes this arresting family portrait. The sophisticated mood is enhanced by the blankness of the background but the sitters’ dark attire is interrupted by the brilliant white of their fine ruffs, which act as striking foils to their highly individualized features. Indeed, the profound naturalism of each person’s face, expertly lit from an invisible source at left, point to Fasolo’s Lombard roots, as Giovanna Baldissin Molli has remarked (op. cit., p. 164). The stately head of this well-to-do household appears at left; his somber expression is mimicked by his eldest son who stands nearest to him, his body turned at a similar angle and his eyes holding the viewer’s gaze with the same haughty intensity. A slight chasm visually separates this young man from his siblings, hinting at the distance that isolates him from them in reality as he enters adulthood. By contrast, the younger boys avoid meeting our stare, and remain closer to their mother, whose rhetorical gesture calls attention to the stylized pattern of her sumptuous gown. Completing her costly ensemble are her exquisite jewels, including a diamond ring symbolic of fidelity, and her myriad pearls, gems that were associated with Venus and so emblematic of purity and beauty.
A key to identifying the sitters in this rediscovered portrait may lie in its provenance. Until recently, the painting hung in the Palazzo Papafava de Carresi on the contrada dello Spirito Santo (today via Marsala) in Padua. The palazzo was commissioned in 1750 by Count Giambattista Trento, though the most significant construction would take place ten years later under the direction of the Paduan architect Giambattista Novello. The Trento family lived in the palazzo until just after the turn of the 19th century, following the death of the count’s last living heir, Decio Trento. At that time, Giambattista’s widow decided to sell the house to the brothers Francesco and Alessandro Papafava dei Carraresi, who took ownership of it in 1807. In that same year, the Papafava redecorated the palazzo’s interior and furnishings, but they are known to have kept some of the Trento family’s property, and it is possible that the present work was among the items retained from the original Trento collection (ibid.; see also L. Puppi and F. Zuliani, eds., Padova. Case e palazzi, Vicenza, 1977, pp. 203-204). As such, it is tempting to identify the sitters as Giambattista Trento’s ancestors, although at present it is impossible to confirm this theory.
As Molli notes, Filippo Pedrocco attributed this painting to Giovanni Battista Fasolo in 2008 on the basis of firsthand inspection, noting that in 1570 the artist was living in Vicenza next door to the house of Francesco Trento (ibid.), which further strengthens the theory of the sitters' identification. Citing the overall sobriety of the composition, Giovanna Baldissin Molli dates the painting to the second half of the 1760s, a period during which Fasolo had moved away from the exuberant colorism of his master, Veronese, in favor of the more classicizing style of Tintoretto. As she notes, a similarly restrained palette may be seen in Fasolo’s portrait of the Pagello family in the Museo Civico, Vicenza, in which the figures likewise are portrayed with the type of rounded heads with pronounced eyes favored by the painter.