Oil on canvas
24 x 19 1/2 inches
Frederick C. Hewitt Fund, 1912
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Excerpt from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York:
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]
Pietro Longhi, Italian, (1701-1785)
b. November 5, 1701, Venice
Art in Context - Projects:
Art in Context - Art for the Day: November 5