The Letter

Pietro Longhi (Pietro Falca) Italian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 630

The Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni praised Longhi’s dedication to truth, by which he meant the artist’s depiction of the foibles of contemporary society. Here a man enters a milliner’s shop not to buy a hat but to elicit sex work from women whose class status has left them vulnerable to wealthier men. Holding out a coin, he negotiates with an older woman for the services of the pretty milliner who pauses her work to read his letter. The reclining mannequin’s head on the table foreshadows the result of their transaction. Longhi’s canvas positions sex work as generational: in the foreground a young girl appraises her doll, paralleling the older woman’s actions.

The Letter, Pietro Longhi (Pietro Falca) (Italian, Venice 1701–1785 Venice), Oil on canvas

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