Pietro Longhi

Dates1701 - 1785

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. His father, a painter and goldsmith, encouraged his natural talent for drawing, and he studied in Venice under a follower of Carlo Maratta. He may also have trained in Bologna with Giuseppe Maria Crespi.

Around 1740 Longhi began painting small genre scenes that provide a vivid record of Venetian daily life, particularly for the aristocracy. Painted in clear, clean colors 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. A contemporary journalist preferred Longhi's "representation of what he sees around him to Tiepolo's grand scenes of the imagination."

Longhi taught drawing for much of his life and founded an academy of drawing and engraving. He made drawings for their own sake, rather than in preparation for specific paintings. With seeming effortlessness, he captured his subjects' gestures and features often in black chalk or pencil heightened with white chalk on colored paper, a technique that was traditional in Venice.