Pietro Longhi (Pietro Falca) (Italian, Venetian, 17021785)
Oil on canvas; 24 x 19 1/2 in. (61 x 49.5 cm)
Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1912 (14.32.2)
Longhi, the principal genre painter of the era, depicted all social classes and chronicled Venetian life indoors as well as out. He was a prolific painter, and engravings after his works by various printmakers were widely distributed. The present canvas, signed and dated 1746 on the reverse, is one of a group of four with matching contemporary frames which may originally have belonged to a much larger set.
The characteristically Venetian interior is an elegant place: a framed portrait of a family ancestor hangs upon a damask-upholstered wall, while leather-bound books lie on a table covered with an expensive carpet. The central figure seems to be a young married woman of style and the stalwart gentleman standing at her shoulder is probably her husband. He wears a cloak and is prepared to go out, while the others will keep his wife company. Behind her is a man with glasses, perhaps a tutor of some sort, while to the right is the priest or family chaplain. A smiling young man in deshabille offers a ring-biscuit, or buzzolà, to the lady's lapdog. If he is not her companion, or cavaliere servente, then he must be her lover (the ring-biscuit carried erotic overtones). Such domestic arrangements apparently were common in eighteenth-century Venice.