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Happy Birthday Pietro Longhi (Venetian Contemporary Painter)

November 05, 2019 2 min read

Pietro Longhi

Born on November 5, 1701 (or 1702), Pietro Longhi was a Venetian painter who is best known for his unique style of portrayal of contemporary everyday life scenes. Unlike most other artists of his time, who painted according to Venetian nobility’s taste for grand mythology and history, Pietro Longhi chose to work on subtler themes of everyday life.

Early life

Pietro Longhi was born in Venice in a silversmith family as the first child of Alessandro Falca and Antonia. The original name of Pietro Longhi was Pietro Falca. He adopted Longhi as his last name when he started to paint. Pietro Longhi received his initial training as a painter under Antonio Balestra who later recommended him to work as an apprentice with Giuseppe Maria Crespi in Bologna. Before 1732 he returned to Venice in the year 1932 he married Caterina Maria Rizzi. Only three of the eleven children that they had reached the age of maturity.

Journey as a painter

Like most other artists of his time, Pietro Longhi too started his career with religious and historical paintings. It was around 1740 that Pietro Longhi started to paint small interior scenes depicting bourgeois life. His keen observation of details of surroundings helped him become successful in this genre. In his painting Clara the Rhinoceros,Pietro Longhi depicts a crowd of men and women looking at an Indian Rhino. The scene chronicles the introduction of Clara the Rhinoceros which was brought from India in 1741 by Douvemont van der Meer, the Dutch sea captain. In other paintings Longhi painted the scene of places like gambling parlor (Ridotti). The most distinguishing feature of Pietro Longhi’s works is perhaps the faceless figures. About half the characters of his paintings have their faces covered with Venetian carnival masks. This could be his way of expressing the irony of Venetian bourgeoise. He intentionally painted the subjects of his paintings as frail and puppet-like to portray the satirical element or irony of circumstance that he wanted to depict. This can be ascertained from the skillful depiction of subjects in his religious and historical painting of his early days.

InThe Charlatan 1757, in the background of the scene is an unmasked man who is shown to be standing on a table, surrounded by unmasked women and a kid who are looking admiringly at him. On the front is a masked man who is lifting a part of an unmasked woman’s dress. The woman with playful gaze appears to be fiddling with the masked man. This skillful portrayal of the real nature of Venetian society in contrast with the pretentious outer appearance is what makes it an artistic masterpiece.

It was in the 1750s that Longhi was entrusted with the task of painting documentation of seven catholic sacraments. From 1763 onward, the year when he was appointed as the Director of the Academy of Drawing and carving, Longhi focused much of work on portraitures. On May 8, 1785 Pietro Longhi breathed his last.

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