Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Temptation

Pietro Longhi (Pietro Falca) (Italian, Venice 1701–1785 Venice)
Oil on canvas
24 x 19 1/2 in. (61 x 49.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 619
The manservant of a young gentleman announces the arrival of a pretty prostitute and her procuress. An extra place has, indeed, been prepared at the breakfast table. The episode is mildly scandalous but the tone is serious.

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.

In the room of a noble Venetian palace a young gentleman is having breakfast, sitting at a small table. A servant enters the room to announce two visitors: a young courtesan and her old procuress, who is lurking behind her on the threshold to the room. Evidently a place at the breakfast table is ready for the young girl, implying that the gentleman has been waiting for her. For a discussion of the theme, see Bagemihl 1988.

This painting, together with three others at the MMA (14.32.1, 14.32.2, 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 (17.190.12) 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. The set probably dates around 1746, the date inscribed next to Longhi’s signature on the back of The Visit (14.32.2). All four paintings have matching eighteenth-century Venetian frames, supporting their origin from the same set of canvases.

This composition was engraved by Giovanni Gutwein.

[Xavier F. Salomon 2011]
?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 through MMA to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17)
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 2–28, 1951, no catalogue.

Art Gallery of Toronto. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 14–December 12, 1951, no catalogue.

City Art Museum of St. Louis. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 6–February 4, 1952, no catalogue.

Seattle Art Museum. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 1–June 30, 1952, no catalogue.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 30).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

Venice. Museo Correr. "Pietro Longhi," December 4, 1993–April 4, 1994, no. 55 (as "La visita al Lord [La tentazione]").

Aldo Ravà. Pietro Longhi. Bergamo, 1909, p. 152, as "La tentazione"; reproduces an engraving after it by Gutwein.

"New Acquisitions of Pictures." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 9 (March 1914), pp. 75–77, ill., as on loan from J. Pierpont Morgan; calls it one of a series of nine pictures said to have been in the collection of the Miari family since the eighteenth century; notes that the figure of the old woman is repeated in "The Letter" (MMA 14.32.1).

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, p. 153, ill. p. 34, reproduces the Gutwein engraving.

Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, under pl. CCCCXXXI.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, under pl. 602.

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.

Roberto Longhi. Viatico per cinque secoli di pittura veneziana. Florence, 1946, p. 69, pl. 156.

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, 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.

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 727, no. 2035, ill. (cropped).

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, notes that there is no evidence to confirm the provenance given in Ref. Volpi 1917.

Vittorio Moschini. Pietro Longhi. Milan, 1956, p. 22, pl. 66, calls it "La visita al Lord"; gives the date of the engraving as 1749.

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.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del Settecento. Venice, 1960, p. 181, fig. 467.

G[iuseppe]. M. Pilo. "Longhi allievo del Balestra." Arte figurativa 9 (January–February 1961), p. 34.

Terisio Pignatti. Pietro Longhi. Venice, 1968, pp. 61, 92–94, pl. 84 [English ed., "Pietro Longhi: Paintings and Drawings," London: Phaidon, 1969, pp. 49, 80, 82, pl. 84], calls it "La visita al lord" ("Milord's Visitor") and dates it about 1746; gives the provenance as the Gambardi collection, Florence; notes that the painting on the back wall, reminiscent of Amigoni, is transformed in Gutwein's engraving (pl. 84a) into a version of Amigoni's "Jupiter and Callisto"; publishes a letter of May 13, 1749 from Longhi to the printer Remondini in which he details alterations to be made to a print, probably Gutwein's engraving of this painting.

Jean Cailleux. "The Literature of Art: The Art of Pietro Longhi." Burlington Magazine 111 (September 1969), p. 567, dates Gutwein's engraving 1748–49.

Michael Levey. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Schools. London, 1971, p. 154 nn. 9, 14.

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.

Terisio Pignatti. "Aggiunte per Pietro Longhi." Arte illustrata 5 (January 1972), p. 3.

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, pp. 38–39, pl. 42, call the painting on the rear wall "apparently a Venetian work of the seventeenth century, recalling the manner of Pietro Liberi".

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. 45, ill. p. 89 and colorpls. XIX, XX (overall and detail).

Vittorio Sgarbi. Pietro Longhi: i dipinti di Palazzo Leoni Montanari. Milan, 1982, p. 8, dates it 1746.

Philip L. Sohm. "Pietro Longhi and Carlo Goldoni: Relations Between Painting and Theater." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 45, no. 3 (1982), pp. 272–73, fig. 12, discusses the gesture of the servant, which both introduces the young woman and points to her groin, as an example of Longhi's use of ambiguous gestures; believes these gestures to have libidinous meanings, here referring either to "the young woman's sexual availability or perhaps the growing consequences of a past affair".

Rolf Bagemihl. "Pietro Longhi and Venetian Life." Metropolitan Museum Journal 23 (1988), pp. 233, 239, 241–43, fig. 11, calls it "The Collation"; interprets the scene as a procuress and her prostitute, a gentleman and his servant, and a "barcarol" (gondolier) acting as go-between.

Filippo Pedrocco. "Iconografia delle cortigiane di Venezia." Il gioco dell'amore: le cortigiane di Venezia dal Trecento al Settecento. Exh. cat., Casinò Municipale, Venice. Milan, 1990, p. 92.

Giorgio Fossaluzza et al. in Pietro Longhi. Exh. cat., Museo Correr, Venice. Milan, 1993, pp. 20, 37, 114, 130, no. 55, ill. p. 115 (color), fig. 8 (detail).

Marianne Roland Michel. Chardin. Paris, 1994, p. 253 [English ed., New York, 1996].

Jean Strouse. "J. Pierpont Morgan, Financier and Collector." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Winter 2000), p. 32, fig. 35 (color) and ill. inside back cover (cropped, color), states that the series was executed for the Gambardi family in 1746.

Katharine Baetjer in The 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 is from Venice and dates to about 1746 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). 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 original 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 swept astragal top edge. A hollow on the outside falls back to articulated 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 pair of frames on 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 and on 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]
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