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Giuseppe Bonito (1705-1789)
Family Portrait Group
18th century
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This is a family portrait showing seven male and female figures from different generations in an outdoor setting. The picture is crowded, lively and full of gesture. Some of the people featured look out at us and some look at one another.

Do you think that this work of art was painted in the outdoors with everyone posing together?

In fact, it was made in the studio with each person sitting separately for his or her portrait, and the final effect is almost like a photographic collage. It has been very carefully constructed and is composed of three triangles; the relationships set up by these triangles may tell us about the people within the painting. We do not know for sure who these people are, but the central triangle may contain the mother and her three children. The two outer triangles may contain (on the far left) an older, less dependent child and (on the far right) older members of the family.

One of the first things that we notice is how each person’s individuality is emphasised through colour, dress and accessories. There is a sense that they are dressed in their best clothes, with braids, trimmings, headgear and gold buttons, in order to have their portrait painted. Many of them are also holding objects which may be particularly dear to them, make them feel more ‘dressed-up’, or which may symbolise certain things. For example, dogs are often symbols of faithfulness and the rose is often a symbol of love. The fact that the central female holds a rose may lead us to question whether she is married and where her husband might be.

If your pupils were to have their portraits painted, what would they want to have with them in the painting and why?
The young boy points to the background, which may be a clue as to the importance of a sense of place for this family group. It is thought that the landscape behind shows the Mediterranean Sea. The artist, Bonito, belonged to a school of artists working in a particular style associated with the city of Naples, situated on the coast of Italy and bordering the Mediterranean.
Giuseppe Bonito (1705-1789) was one of the most important painters of the Neapolitan School in the 18th century. During the 1740s he became a successful court portraitist and between 1748 and 1750 he painted nine portraits of the children of Charles III (now in the Prado, Madrid). In 1753, he was made the official painter to the King of Naples. Although well known for his portraits and his ‘low-life’ genre scenes, he made designs for medals and tapestries and painted in fresco.
Giuseppe Bonito, Family Portrait Group, 18th century
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 99.4 x 138.4 cm
The Bowes Museum: B.M.91
Pose and Expression
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