Here an elegant woman, accompanied by her family chaplain and possibly her husband, receives an escort who toys with her dog. The ring-biscuit may well carry erotic overtones. The decoration of the drawing room is typically Venetian.
Pietro Longhi was renowned in Venice for his small paintings representing scenes of everyday life. These were often salacious and depicted love stories, even though no particular narrative was presented and it is unlikely that these works would have had any moral commentary. The paintings often appeared in series and, again, these habitually did not follow a specific theme. Such paintings were avidly collected by patrician families, and the theatrical comic writer Carlo Goldoni praised Longhi’s work.
Within a Venetian aristocratic palace, under the watchful presence of a family portrait, a lady presides over her small court. Behind her, standing in a coat, is her husband, presumably returning to the house or in the process of leaving. Next to him is the music or dance instructor of the lady, and sitting to her right is the family chaplain. On the other side is the lady’s young cavalier servente (escort) who is feeding a small lap-dog with a ciambella, a small piece of cake. To the right is a beautiful still life of books arranged over a carpet. For a discussion of the theme, see Bagemihl 1988.
This painting, together with three others at the MMA (14.32.1, 17.190.12, 36.16), is said to have been a part of a larger set of canvases by Longhi. It has been proposed (Volpi 1917) that the artist painted twenty pictures for the Gambardi family in Florence, and that the last member of the family left half of the set to the marchese Freschi in Padua and the other half to the conte Miari de’ Cumani in Padua. Out of the ten Freschi canvases, two are supposed to be in the National Gallery, London (An Interior with Three Women and a Seated Man and The Exhibition of a Rhinoceros in Venice), and two others in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (The Little Concert and The Tooth Puller). These two pairs, however, are different in format from each other. The four MMA paintings, instead, were sold by conte Giacomo Miari de’ Cumani in 1912–13. He was said to have owned ten paintings by Longhi, four of which are at the MMA, and six of which were in the collection of Elia Volpi in Florence and later in that of Lionello Perera in New York, before being dispersed at two sales: four were sold at Sotheby’s, London, on June 24, 1964 (nos. 31–34) and two were sold at Sotheby’s, London, on April 19, 1967 (nos. 18–19). Documentation in the MMA archives, however, suggests that conte Miari owned fourteen canvases by Longhi, and not ten. He commissioned copies of the paintings he sold, but these works are still untraced. Four of the Miari canvases were sold to Carlo Balboni who, together with Antonio Carrer, sold them to the MMA. Of these four, two (14.32.1 and 14.32.2) were exhibited at the Museum, while two were sold to J. Pierpont Morgan (17.19.12) and Henry Walters (36.16), before eventually returning to the Museum separately. Of the six remaining paintings that were sold in 1964 and 1967, three are the Artist Sketching an Elegant Company (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena), The Quack Doctor (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), and The Card Players (Alte Pinakothek, Munich). Three more (A Gentleman and his Wife Taking Chocolate, A Musical Party, A Girl Dancing at a Picnic) are currently untraced. During relining in 1952 the signature and date of the painting (Pietrus Longhi 1746) was revealed on the back of the original canvas. It is now invisible after relining. All four paintings at the MMA have matching eighteenth-century Venetian frames, supporting their origin from the same set of canvases.
[Xavier F. Salomon 2011]
Inscription: Signed and dated (reverse, now covered by relining canvas): Pietrus Longhi 1746
?Gambardi family, Florence; conte Giacomo Miari de Cumani, Padua (until 1912/13; sold to Balboni); [Carlo Balboni, Venice, and Antonio Carrer, Venice, 1912/13; sold to MMA]
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Venice, 1700–1800," September 30–November 2, 1952, no. 46.
Indianapolis. John Herron Art Museum. "Venice, 1700–1800," November 15–December 31, 1952, no. 46.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
"New Acquisitions of Pictures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (March 1914), pp. 75–77, ill., calls it one of a series of nine pictures said to have been in the collection of the Miari family since the eighteenth century.
Ancient Italian Art Treasures of Extraordinary Artistic and Historical Interest. American Art Galleries, New York. December 17–19, 1917, unpaginated, under nos. 441–46, identifies the four MMA paintings, as well as pictures in the National Gallery, London, the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, and six works included in this sale catalogue, as from a series of twenty works painted for the Gambardi family of Florence; gives provenance information for the series.
Aldo Ravà. Pietro Longhi. Florence, 1923, ill. p. 35.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCCXXXI.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 602, erroneously refers to it as "The Reading" (i.e., "The Letter").
Margaret D. Sloane. "A Genre Scene by Longhi." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 31 (March 1936), p. 52, repeats the provenance information given in Ref. Volpi 1917.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 293, ill. p. 295, repeats the provenance information given in Ref. Volpi 1917.
Marian Davis. "Two Eighteenth Century Paintings: A Fete Galante by Pater and a Scene from Everyday Life by Longhi." Worcester Art Museum Annual 5 (1946), pp. 60–61, fig. 13, accepts the Gambardi provenance and the connection with the London, Milan, and ex-Volpi pictures; dates the series to the artist's middle or late period, 1750–70.
Antonio Morassi. "Una mostra del Settecento veneziano a Detroit." Arte veneta 7 (1953), p. 55.
Michael Levey. The Eighteenth Century Italian Schools. London, 1956, p. 72 nn. 7, 10, p. 74 n. 7, notes that there is no evidence to confirm the provenance given in Ref. Volpi 1917, and that "Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice" (National Gallery, London; no. 1101), which must date from 1751 or later, cannot have formed part of the same series as this work, dated 1746.
Vittorio Moschini. Pietro Longhi. Milan, 1956, pp. 22, 60, pl. 65.
Francesco Valcanover. "Affreschi sconosciuti di Pietro Longhi." Paragone 7 (January 1956), p. 25 n. 1, lists the "bellissima" series at the MMA, noting that there are preparatory drawings in the Museo Correr, Venice.
Carlo Donzelli. I pittori veneti del Settecento. Florence, 1957, p. 135.
Michael Levey. Painting in XVIII Century Venice. London, 1959, p. 112, fig. 52.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del Settecento. Venice, 1960, p. 181.
Terisio Pignatti. Pietro Longhi. Venice, 1968, pp. 61, 89, 92–94, pl. 76 [English ed., "Pietro Longhi: Paintings and Drawings," London: Phaidon, 1969, pp. 49, 77, 80–82, pl. 76], calls it "La visita alla dama" ("A Lady Receives Visitors") and notes that it seems to come from the Gambardi collection; reproduces a preparatory drawing for the rear wall (pl. 77; Museo Correr, Venice, no. 547).
Jean Cailleux. "The Literature of Art: The Art of Pietro Longhi." Burlington Magazine 111 (September 1969), p. 567.
Michael Levey. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Schools. London, 1971, p. 154 nn. 9, 14, p. 156 n. 12, pp. 158–59.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 108, 496, 606.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, p. 38, pl. 41.
Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 3, Italian Schools: XVI–XVIII Century. London, 1973, pp. 136–37, under no. K393, dates all four pictures 1746, finding them "completely homogenous in style".
Terisio Pignatti. L'opera completa di Pietro Longhi. Milan, 1974, pp. 88, 94, no. 43, ill. p. 89 and colorpl. XVII.
Rolf Bagemihl. "Pietro Longhi and Venetian Life." Metropolitan Museum Journal 23 (1988), pp. 233, 236, 243, fig. 1, erroneously gives the date appearing on the picture as 1745; discusses the subject matter, interpreting it as a scene of courtship; identifies the male figures as, from left to right, the lady's escort, her husband, her music or dance teacher, and the family chaplain; finds erotic overtones in the action of the escort offering a biscuit to the dog.
Giorgio Fossaluzza et al. inPietro Longhi. Exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice. Milan, 1993, pp. 114, 116, 130, 170, accepts the Gambardi provenance.
Marianne Roland Michel. Chardin. Paris, 1994, p. 253, ill. [English ed., New York, 1996].
Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. Frameworks: Form, Function & Ornament in European Portrait Frames. London, 1996, p. 450 n. 20.
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, p. 52 [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, p. 36].
Old Master Paintings: Part I. Christie's, New York. January 28, 2015, p. 132, under no. 48.
The frame (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4), one of a pair (with 14.32.1), is from Venice and dates to about 1746. This delicate variant of a Salvator Rosa (1615–1673) type frame is made of pine and has half-lap construction with a mitred face. The early water gilding with its distinctive luster includes a pale gold leaf applied to an orange-colored bole on a thin gesso layer. The sight edge is ornamented with applied carving of pierced acanthus leaf and husk. A gentle ogee rises to a step before a swept astragal top edge. A hollow on the outside falls back to raked knull ornament at the back edge which emerges from center points. This frame is original to the painting and the style is associated with the artist. Slight variations to the scale of the ornament occur on the two other frames (17.190.12 and 36.16) in this series of four.
[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
Artist: Pietro Longhi (Pietro Falca) (Italian, Venice 1701–1785 Venice)Date: 1702–85Medium: Black chalk stumped, highlighted with white chalk, on light brown paperAccession: 1994.86On view in:Not on view