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 (14.32.1)
The background suggests a milliner's establishment. An old man, entering from the right with a coin in his outstretched hand, is represented by a procuress, who seeks a pretty girl's favor while signaling in his direction. The young millinerwearing a dress with a low bodice, an apron, and flowers in her hairreads the man's letter with a coy glance and evident pleasure. Typically, the other two, who may be her mother and baby sister, are oblivious to the ensuing encounter. While the interior is little defined, Longhi observes the protagonists' dress and expression closely.
The great Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni (17071793) praised Longhi's dedication to truth, by which he meant the way the painter chronicled the foibles of contemporary society. Indeed Longhi's work, full of implication, humor, and alarm, is rather like Goldoni's plays. Both afford an intimate look at life in eighteenth-century Venice.