Pietro Longhi

Master of Venetian genre scenes

Making polenta, by Longhi

The son of a Venetian silversmith, Pietro Longhi (1702-85) was apprenticed to Giuseppe Crespi of Bologna before returning to Venice, aged 31, where he started off painting typical religious commissions and altarpieces. In 1734, he was commissioned to fresco the grand stair of the Ca' Sagredo with the monumental, sincere but rather silly Fall of the Giants.

This herculean effort seems to have been a turning point in his career, because shortly afterwards he turned his hand to small paintings, especially genre scenes from everyday life, notably of bourgeois or society Venetian enjoying themselves, gambling, courting, masked for Carnival (someone has estimated that half of the figures he painted were masked) or playing music, offering us some of the best clues of what life in Venice was like in the 18th century, or at least what people thought life should be like. He has been called the 'Hogarth of Venice' but as art historian Bernard Berenson famously wrote about him:

…Longhi painted for the Venetians passionate about painting, their daily lives, in all dailiness, domesticity, and quotidian mundane-ness. In the scenes regarding the hairdo and the apparel of the lady, we find the subject of gossip of the inopportune barber, chattering of the maid; in the school of dance, the amiable sound of violins. It is not tragic… but upholds a deep respect of customs, of great refinement, with an omnipresent good humor distinguishes the paintings of the Longhi from those of Hogarth, at times pitiless and loaded with omens of change...”.

He married and had 11 children, but only three survived childhood; one, Antonio, worked in his father's studio and become a portrait painter in his own right. Pietro's major works are in the Ca’ Rezzonico, Accademia, and the Fondazione Querini-Stampalia.

This is a preview of the content in our Venice Art & Culture app. Get the app to:
iOS App Store Google Play