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Italia • 1702−1785

Biography and information

He learned his first artistic skills from his father. Pietro Longhi studied under Antonio Balestra and Giuseppe Maria Crespi. He was also an engraver. In the 1720s and 1730s, the artist created altar compositions for the churches of Venice and other northern Italian cities. In 1734 he visited Bologna. In the 1740s, representatives of high society and Venice street events became the subject of his pictures. On 31 December 1756, he was admitted to the Venetian Academy of Painting and Sculpture. In 1766, he became an honorary member of the Academy of Arts.

Pietro Longhi was an Italian painter, draftsman, representative of the Venetian school. The name of Pietro Longhi, an outstanding painter, creator of a special kind of Venetian everyday genre, a virtuoso master of street scenes and everyday sketches, is almost unknown in Russia, since there is not a single work of this artist in Russian collections. Longhi’s real name was Pietro Falca, but in documents relating to his mature period, he appeared under the pseudonym of an unclear origin.

The artist was born in Venice and received his first art lessons from his father Falca, a famous silversmith. He felt passion for painting and took a different last name. As an artist, Longhi began with altarpiece images, tried himself as monumental painter, but unsuccessfully. Initially, he was a silversmith, but later he became a student of the Bolognese artist Giuseppe Crespi.
Back in Venice in 1732, he tried unsuccessfully to engage in monumental painting (The Overthrow of the Giants, painting in the Palazzo Sagredo, circa 1734), but eventually devoted himself exclusively to genre painting (influenced by French Rococo genre painters).

In his paintings, the influence of Crespi is noticeable, however, Longhi’s painting style is more subtle, the surface of his paintings is smoother. His scenes lack liveliness, but they are bright and joyful in colour. Longhi’s paintings became popular quite quickly, they illustrated the Venetian life of the time: scenes in salons, boudoirs, coffee shops, etc. Note, for example, such paintings as Concert (Venice, Academy Gallery) and Rhinoceros (London, National Gallery).

In 1737, he joined the guild of Venetian painters. In the prime of his creative powers, at the turn of the 1730—1740s, the artist abandoned monumental painting forever and immersed into painting small canvases depicting peasant types, and later — scenes from the life of the urban bourgeoisie and street scenes. Nobody had done this before him in Venice. The paintings enjoyed great success, they were willingly bought by the Venetian nobility to decorate their palazzos. Over time, he had students, followers and even imitators. Despite this, against the general background of Venetian art, the art of Pietro Longhi remained a rather isolated phenomenon.

In his paintings, the heroes of Goldoni, the artist’s close friend, seem to come to life; probably, Longhi had adopted some motives and themes for his paintings from theatrical performances, but it was the vitality of his art that won over his contemporaries. “The brush seeking truth” (реnnеl chе cеrcа il vеrо) — this is how Goldoni defined the essence of the painter’s work, whom he considered his like-minded person. Both found their heroes in patrician society or among the commoners inhabiting the Venice outskirts; we often see the female image at the centre of the “narrative” of both of them. But this is where the similarities end.

During his walks around the city, Longhi saw the kind Venetian people. He painted laundresses, pretzel saleswomen, “ciambelli”, a furlana, performed to the accompaniment of a tambourine in some back street. In neither his paintings, nor books of that time, the Venetian people seemed unhappy, destitute. They also participated in the celebration of life somehow. This is the deep difference between Venice of the 18th century and Paris. In the souls of the simplest people, there lived such a sense of beauty, such an innate aristocracy of tastes and pleasures, which France did not know, despite the long and difficult court training. After all, this is the only explanation for such a creation of the Italian folk genius as commedia dell’arte — mask comedy.

Longhi correctly understood the main artistic “nerve” of the Venetian life of his time — the beauty of the mask. The mask is the main motive for almost all of his paintings. The very idea of Longhi is inseparable from the idea of the baùta, this strange form of the Venetian carnival. Baùta means dominoes in general, but the Venetian baùta is subordinated to an amazingly strict pattern and a strict combination of two colours, black and white. This shows a wonderful habit of artistic law, which governs the city of black gondolas and black zendaletto shawls till the present day. The Venetian baùta consisted of a white satin mask with a sharp triangular profile and deep hollows for the eyes, and a wide black cloak with a black lace cape. A piece of black silk was attached to the mask, completely covering the lower part of the face, neck and back of the head. They wore triangular black hats trimmed with silver lace on their heads. Baùtas were complemented with white silk stockings and black shoes with buckles.
Throughout his life, the artist also turned to the portrait. He created a number of images of people of his epoch. His talent was revealed not in ceremonial, but rather in chamber images.

The fate of Pietro Longhi’s creative heritage was not easy. The high artistic merit of his works was underestimated for a long time. Today he has taken a prominent place in the history of Venetian painting as one of its most prominent artists.
Alessandro Longhi (12.6.1733, Venice, — November 1813, ibid.), the son of Pietro Longhi, studied from his father and was a portrait painter. His works (The Pisani Family, 1758, Bentivoglio collection, Venice) are characterized by a combination of representativeness with a gentle amiability in the interpretation of models, as well as free manner of painting.