Born in Rome to a little-known painter, Pietro Fetti, Domenico is said to have apprenticed initially under Ludovico Cigoli, or his pupil Andrea Commodi in Rome from circa 1604–1613. He then worked in Mantua from 1613 to 1622, patronized by the Cardinal, later Duke Ferdinando I Gonzaga. In the Ducal Palace, he painted the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. The series of representations of New Testament parables he carried out for his patron's studiolo gave rise to a popular specialty, and he and his studio often repeated his compositions.
In August or September 1622, his feuds with some prominent Mantuans led him to move to Venice, which for the first few decades of the seventeenth century had persisted in sponsoring Mannerist styles (epitomized by Palma the Younger and the successors of Tintoretto and Veronese). Into this mix, in the 1620s–30s, three "foreigners"—Fetti and his younger contemporaries Bernardo Strozzi and Jan Lys—breathed the first influences of Roman Baroque style. They adapted some of the rich coloration of Venice but adapted it to Caravaggio-influenced realism and monumentality.
In Venice where he remained despite pleas from the Duke to return to Mantua, Fetti changed his style: his formalised painting style became more painterly and colourful. In addition, he devoted attention to smaller cabinet pieces that adapt genre imaging to religious stories. His group of paintings entitled Parables, which represent New Testament scenes, are at the Dresden Gemäldegalerie. He influenced Leonaert Bramer.
His style appears to be influenced by Rubens. He would likely have continued to find excellent patronage in Venice had he not died there in 1623 or 1624. Jan Lys, eight years younger, but who had arrived in Venice nearly contemporaneously, died during the plague of 1629–30. Subsequently, Fetti's style would influence the Venetians Pietro della Vecchia and Sebastiano Mazzone. Of of his pupils in Mantua were Francesco Bernardi (il Bigolaro) and Dionisio Guerri.
^"Fetti, Domenico – Portrait of an Actor (Tristano Martinelli or Francesco Andreini ?)" at the Hermitage Museum website; Pamela Askew, "Fetti's 'Portrait of an Actor' Reconsidered", The Burlington Magazine, vol. 120, no. 899 (February 1978}, pp. 59–65; Denis Stevens, "Martinelli, Not Monteverdi", Early Music, vol. 22, no. 1, Monteverdi II (February 1994), pp. 185–186; Bernard Aikema, "Fetti. Mantua" (review of an exhibition held in 1996 in Mantua, in which the Hermitage painting was displayed at the Palazzo Te as a portrait of Fancesco Andreini), The Burlington Magazine, vol. 139, no. 1127 (February 1997), pp. 142–144.
^Pamela Askew, "The Parable Paintings of Domenico Fetti." Art Bulletin43 (1961:31–32], reprinted in Seventeenth Century Art in Italy, France and Spain (The Garland Library of the History of Art 8). New York, 1976.
^Some examples: The Good Samaritan, attributed to Fetti himself, ca 1618–22 (Metropolitan Museum of Art), repetitions by Fetti are in Boston and Dresden, as well as studio repetitions; Parable of the Mote and the Beam, attributed, ca 1619 (Metropolitan Museum); Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, workshop, ca 1618–1628 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC).