Pietro Longhi

Pietro Longhi was an 18th C Venetian painter famed for his small scale genre works, representing the trend to the “private and the bourgeois”

Popular for their charm and seeming naivete, though with a trace of gentle irony; his paintings have a Rococo sense of the intimate and manifest the interest in social observation characteristic of the Enlightenment.  He also painted landscapes and occasional portraits and many of his paintings were engraved.

His works, like those of Antoine Watteau, were based on carefully observed figure drawings, a large number of which survive.

With his talents unsuited to grand historical and religious cycles, Pietro Longhi built a wildly successful career outside the mainstream of Venetian art; by using his gift for observing the world.



Pietro Longhi - Self Portrait


Pietro Longhi. Self-Portrait.

( b. November 5th, 1701 – d. May 8th, 1785)

He portrays in his canvases what he sees with his own eyes” in contrast to the history painters who paint, figures dressed in ancient fashion and characters of fancy.”  Gaspare Gozzi, an admirer of Longhi.






Pietro Longhi – BIOGRAPHY

Early Life andworks. Pietro Longhi was born in Venice in the parish of Saint Maria, first child of the silversmith Alessandro Falca and his wife, Antonia. He only adopted the Longhi last name, when he began to paint.

He was taught drawing and modelling by his father and was initially taught by the Veronese history painter Antonio Balestra; who later recommended the young painter to apprentice with the Bolognese artist, Giuseppe Maria Crespi.

Crespi was highly regarded in his day, for both religious and genre painting and was influenced by the work of Dutch painters. However, there is little documentation of his stay in Bologna.

Longhi returned to Venice before 1732. He was married that same year to Caterina Maria Rizzi, by whom he had eleven children; sadly, only three reached the age of maturity.

Among his early paintings In the 1720’s and 1730’s, are some altarpieces and larger scale religious themes in Venice which remain mostly untraced. His first major documented work, was an altarpiece for the church of San Pellegrino in 1732; that reveals the strong influence of Balestra.

In 1734, Longhi’s completed his frescoes depicting the “Fall of the Giants” above the principal staircase in the Ca’ Sagredo, Venice. They revealed his limited talent for history painting on a large scale and it may have been the disastrous critical reception of this commission; that led to his dramatic shift toward genre paintings of contemporary life.

With his talents unsuited to grand historical and religious cycles, Pietro Longhi built a wildly successful career outside the mainstream of Venetian art by using his gift for observing the world.


The move to small-scale genre works.

Longhi’s development as a painter in the 1730s remains unclear, but a concert scene dated 1741 in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice; shows his inventive approach to “genre” painting already fully developed.

Definition. Genre painting (or petit genre), a form of genre art, depicts aspects of everyday life by portraying people engaged in common activities.

Confusingly, the word “genre” is also used in art to describe the different types, or broad subjects, of painting. In the 17th century five distinctive types of painting were established, these were: history painting; portrait painting; landscape painting; genre painting (scenes of everyday life) and still life.


In his “Abecedario pittorico” of 1753, Pietro Orlandi lauded Longhi’s “new and individual style of painting conversation pieces, games, ridotti, masquerades, parlours, all on a small scale and with such veracity and colour that at a glance it was easy to recognise the places and people portrayed.”

For such paintings, he adopted the simple format or a shallow, windowless stage and he restricted his compositions to relatively few figures in restrained poses. His soft, delicate brushwork is reminiscent of that of Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752) and his palette reveals the influence of the pastels of Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757).

Painted in clear, clean colours and populated with doll-like figures, his intimate portrayals display a flair for revealing the lives of the nobility, with perhaps a bit more charm than realism; they became even more popular through engravings.

Left: The Ridotto” (Gambling Casino – Date unknown)



Masks. In numerous paintings, Longhi depicts masked figures engaging in various acts from gambling to flirting. He is seen to express a duality of the mask; used by his subjects to hide physically, but to expose their unconscious desires.

For example, Longhi displays the casino, as a place where the social elite, who would not exhibit such behaviour in public nor unmasked; but would abandon all inhibitions and pursue their actual desires.


Influences. In addition to his Venetian contemporaries and the realists of Bergamo, Brescia, and Bologna; several other sources influenced Longhi’s development. First noted by P. J. Mariette in the 18th century, Longhi’s rapport with contemporary French painting has long been observed and engravings of and after Lancret, Mercier, Pater, de Troy, and Watteau; are cited among the models for his genre style.

Other writers have sought sources for his style in17th century Dutch and Flemish painting; which was to be seen in Venice at the period.

Contemporary references to Longhi as the creator of “speaking caricatures“, led inevitably to the comparison of his genre paintings with the graphic work of Hogarth; readily available in Venetian printshops by 174. However, Longhi’s conversation pieces, lacked the same satirical intention.

Longhi’s great pictorial sensibility and delicate sense of humour and his selective and careful depictions of contemporary Venetian life; brought him immediate success.

Left:The Charletan“. (1757) – Note the masked man, pulling up the dress of the unmasked women.





Popularity in Venetian patrician society. Longhi’s felicitous rendering of Venetian life, proved especially popular within a restricted element of Venetian patrician society and he is recorded as working for the Emo, Grimani, Pisani, Querini, Rezzonico and Sagredo families.

Painted in clear, clean colours and populated with doll-like figures, his intimate portrayals display a flair for revealing the lives of the nobility; with perhaps a bit more charm than realism. They became even more popular through his engravings.

A clue to the contemporary reception of his work is given by a Venetian journalist, Gaspare Gozzi, who admired Longhi because, “he portrays in his canvases what he sees with his own eyes“; in contrast to the history painters who paint “figures dressed in ancient fashion and characters of fancy.”

Another contemporary journalist preferred Longhi’s “representation of what he sees around him to Tiepolo’s grand scenes of the imagination.”

Left:  “The Venetian Family” (1750-55)



Widening his subject matter. Between 1740 to 1750, Longhi’s repertory focused primarily on conversation pieces; thereafter he widened his practice to include out-of-doors subjects, like hunting parties and portraits.











Left:Portrait of Marchesa Conchesa di Udine” (date unknown)                            Right: The Duck Hunt” 1760


In 1751, he painted one of his most realistic and moving pictures, “The Rhinoceros” (Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico) and open-air scenes filled with the atmosphere of the Lagoons, such as “Duck Shooting” (Venice, Querini Stampalia). The same museum has his Seven Sacraments, of the mid-1740’s, which still show an indebtedness to Crespi. His few portraits reveal a charming talent in this field; as in The Portrait of Benedetto Ganassoni of 1774 (Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico) and the large “Pisani Family” of the early 1760’s (Venice, Private Collection).

The outstanding works of Longhi’s career, are seven paintings of the Sacraments; made in the early 1750’s for the Querini family (Galleria Querini Stampalia, Venice). Longhi occasionally painted more than one version of his own compositions; but more often his works were duplicated by pupils and followers. He developed his compositions, with painstaking care and he produced numerous drawings for the figures and other details in his paintings.

The Rhinosaurus” (1751) – Note. There may be a moralistic message to the painting, since the young man on the left, holds aloft the sawed-off horn of the animal; a metaphor for cuckoldry.




Recognition. In 1737, Longhi was elected to membership in the “Fraglia”, the Venetian guild of painters, in which he remained active until 1773.

He was a founding member of the Academy of Painters in 1756, instructor for its life classes until 1780 and a director from 1763-1766 of a private academy, founded by the Pisani family.

Longhi died on May 8th 1785, in the house in the quarter of San Rocco in Venice; where he had lived since 1740.

Longhi’s son, Alessandro (1733-1813), was also a painter and is best known for his portraits.

 Left: “Study of a seated Woman” (drawing – date unknown)






Celebrated genre canvases were produced by other contemporary artists in Italy such as Gaspare Traversi and Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Longhi had not only departed the world of grand mythology of history, that often allured the Venetian nobility; but also taken residence in its intimate present, as few painters in Venice had ever done. If Canaletto and Guardi, are our window to the external rituals of the republic; Longhi is our window to what happened inside rooms.

The critic Bernard Berenson stated that: “Longhi painted for the picture-loving Venetians their own lives in all their ordinary domestic and fashionable phases. In the hair-dressing scenes, we hear the gossip of the periwigged barber; in the dressmaking scenes, the chatter of the maid; in the dancing-school, the pleasant music of the violin. There is no tragic note anywhere. Everybody dresses, dances, makes bows, takes coffee, as if there were nothing else in the world that wanted doing. A tone of high courtesy, of great refinement, coupled with an all-pervading cheerfulness, distinguishes Longhi’s pictures from the works of Hogarth, at once so brutal and so full of presage of change”.

With his talents unsuited to grand historical and religious cycles, Pietro Longhi built a wildly successful career outside the mainstream of Venetian art by using his gift for observing the world.



Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists: 

 Venetian Artists-18th Century

Foreign Artists working in Venice

Turner in Venice         Whistler in Venice

Monet in Venice


Pietro Longhi    Pietro Longhi    Pietro Longhi    Pietro Longhi    Pietro Longhi

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