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The Bellelli Family is a multiple portrait from the early years of Degas’ career
This famous artwork captures his aunt, her husband and their two young daughters.
Despite his youthfulness at the time, this intriguing paintings is seen as one of his finest, and laid down a marker on which his future portraiture would be compared.
Artist Degas produced symbolic content in this painting in the way that he arranged the family members. The father would be displaced, sat at his desk. This would communicate an attention to work, rather than his children.
Degas produced many preparatory sketches for this final piece. The family members held different poses and facial expressions which he wanted to catch precisely on canvas as he had pictured in his mind.
Mother Laura holds a solemn look as she mourns a recent family death. Her clothing also underlines this scenario. She cares for her daughters whilst her husband is isolated on the other side of the artwork.
The couple were known to have been experiencing marital problems around this time and Degas captured this perfectly. He also indicates how the two daughters had slightly different characters already as well as different bonds with their mother.
Bronzino and Ingres are believed to have been the specific influences on Degas which led to him to portray Laura in the way that he did. There is also a triangular composition of the three women, a frequent artistic technique for providing balance in traditional painting.
The Musée d’Orsay currently owns The Bellelli Family and it is on display alongside several other notable Degas artworks. This prestigious museum ranks amongst the finest in France. Any visit to Paris much surely take in the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre.
This portrait was completed when Degas was in his mid to late 20s, fresh from a period of time spent in Italy where he would further his studies and also take in influences from famous Italian artists from the Renaissance era.
Alongside his aunt Laura, her husband is baron Gennaro Bellelli and daughters Giulia and Giovanna. His Aunt’s mourning was for her father who had passed recently and is symbolically captured in the framed painting in the background.
The family had relocated to Florence at that time due to political instabilities across the country. This move had not helped their relationships and sadly Laura was later to lose a child, adding to their woes. She was pregnant at the time of this portrait and clearly not displaying the glow of an expectant mother.
The significance of this artwork in Degas’ career and early development has led to much analysis being made of it by academics. They note how psychologically complex it is compared to the artists who competed with Degas around this time.
There is, for example, a subtle message in how he places a distance between the parents and then lies one daughter as an uncomfortable connection between the two. She playfully tries to draw her father’s attention back to his family and away from the had work that so obsessed him.