Between the ages of 22 and 26, Edgar Degas completed his training in Italy, where part of his familly lived. Here he painted his father's sister, Laure, with her husband, the baron Bellelli (1812-1864) and her two daughters, Giula and Giovanna.
The baron was an Italian patriot, banned from Naples, who lived an exile in Florence. His wife is in mourning for her father, Hilaire, who died recently and whose portrait appears on the framed redline painting close to his daughter's face. In 1860, the two granddaughters, Giovanna and Giula, are 7 and 10. The mother is impressively dignified and affirms a slightly severe authority, contrasting with the relative aloofness of the father. This family portrait evokes those of Flemish painters, van Dyck in particular. Masterpiece of Degas's early years, this portrait evokes the family tensions isolating each member of the family. The imposing dimensions, the sober colours, the structured games of open perspectives (doors and mirrors), all converge in strengthening a climate of oppression. All the more so as suggestions of escape appear, such as this curious little dog split by the frame. The almost playful position of the younger daughter alone, crossing her leg under her skirt, contrasts with the heavy atmosphere whereas her elder sister seems already prisoner of adult conventions.