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Venice 2014

The Ridotto

The Ridotto

Longhi, Pietro. The Ridotto. ca. 1750.

Longhi’s provides the best glimpse into the life of the nobility in his painting entitled The Ridotto. The Ridotto near San Moisè was the most famous and prominent casino in Venice. Furthermore, it was known throughout Europe as a place of ultimate decadence. Gamblers of every social class came to the Ridotto and besides the barefaced patricians who held the bank at each table most others were masked. Casinos could be found all over Venice and were considered to be “a quiet retreat from the loud cafés: for private dinners and conversation, for politicking or plotting, and for personal business that required discretion.”[17] The Ridotto provided this escape from the world but it was on a grander scale, which sometimes made it all the more dangerous.  The Ridotto was a dangerous place for the nobility to enter as it put the nobility’s level of decorum to the test and often many wealthy young men left impoverished after a night at the tables. In addition, thieves lurked in the dark streets surrounding the Ridotto, and unpaid debts were often settled by violence. Gamblers could count on finding prostitutes among the masked women, and in the rooms upstairs men sold obscene pictures and illicit verse. The Ridotto was described by the Council of Ten as drawing “a detestable mix of patricians, foreigners, and plebeians, of honest women, and public prostitutes, of cards and weapons by day and by night that confound every status, consume very fortune, and corrupt every custom.” The Council of Ten and other Venetian magistrates worried most about two things at the Ridotto, uncontrolled mingling of persons and extravagant waste. As one might imagine, this caused the government to close casinos for a period as they were committing crimes against morality.[18]

For this reason, masks became a necessity for any who dared enter the Ridotto. The government even made attempts to reform the Ridotto by regulating the custom of masks. In Longhi’s painting of The Ridotto, the viewer is given almost a bird’s eye view of what appears to be the main gambling hall within the casino. The room is bustling with activity and in large part the men and women are all masked.  Longhi’s image shows the viewer the fullest extent to which the mask was used.  The characters to be found in the Ridotto were of such illicit quality that for the nobility, masks were a necessity. Masks performed the dual task of both concealing one’s identity and protecting one’s level in society.

[17] James H. Johnson, Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), 6-9.

[18] James H. Johnson, Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001),27-29.

The Ridotto

Guardi, Francesco. The Ridotto. ca. 1765. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

A contemporary of Longhi’s, Francesco Guardi, also painted a scene of the Ridotto. Francesco Guardi was a member of the view painters, also known as the ‘vedustiti’, who were made famous by painting grand views of the cityscape of Venice.[19] Guardi’s The Ridotto differs from Longhi’s image in that the artist depicts the entirety and grandeur of the room to a much larger scale. The figures appear small and most face away from the viewer. While one can tell masks are on the faces of the figures, it requires a much closer examination. Looking at Guardi’s image, the viewer leaves with the impression of the grandeur of the space rather than with an impression of the figures that had occupied it. In comparison, Longhi’s image is more honest in that it provides a real glimpse into the Ridotto and the people who visited it.  Longhi’s image of the Ridotto also serves as evidence of his audience, as it focuses on the charming pleasures to be had by those, like the nobility, who could afford it. Typically, it was the nobility who most frequently visited and enjoyed this space so it makes sense that Longhi’s patrons being nobility would enjoy images of themselves. Longhi’s image also stays true to the desire of the nobility by making this scene charming and exciting so as to keep the peace with the government and maintain the freedom of those who wear the mask.

[19] Stefano Zuffi, ed., Art in Venice (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999), 120.