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Venice 2014

Traveling About the City

A Fortune Teller at Venice

Longhi, Pietro. A Fortune Teller at Venice. ca. 1756. The National Gallery, London.

One starts to understand that Longhi’s paintings depict an intimate view of the nobility engaging in and around the city. The Fortune Teller at Venice and The Quack Doctor are two more scenes that also feature the nobility, although they differ from the previously mentioned works in that the nobility is in a truly public setting. In The Fortune Teller at Venice, the scene takes place under the lower outside arcade of the Doges' Palace, Venice.[15] Although it is unknown, one assumes the scene of The Quack Doctor took place in the same location, as the pillars and relief on the wall appear to be the same. This area was where showmen and quacks erected booths, chiefly at the time of carnival. Longhi’s The Fortune Teller at Venice addresses the publicity of this scene in the inscription on the pillar, which relates to the election or coronation in 1752 of Doge Francesco Loredan.[16] These two scenes are significant because they provide a wider glimpse into how the nobility engaged in the public arena.

 

 



[15] The National Gallery of Art, London, “A Fortune Teller at Venice,” The National Gallery of Art, London, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/pietro-longhi-a-fortune-teller-at-venice (accessed April 28, 2014)

[16] The National Gallery of Art, London, “A Fortune Teller at Venice,” The National Gallery of Art, London, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/pietro-longhi-a-fortune-teller-at-venice (accessed April 28, 2014)         

The Quack Doctor

Longhi, Pietro. The Quack Doctor. after 1763. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, California.

For anyone traveling about the city, one had to prepare and that is particularly true of the nobility. The nobility more often than not had to put on masks before they ventured out into the streets. They did this in order to place a distance between them and any lowly people they might encounter. In A Fortune Teller at Venice and The Quack Doctor, one can see evidence of the nobility’s effort to preserve themselves as they all wear masks. The women who wear colorful veils around their faces and are unmasked could be ladies maids or prostitutes. At the time, the government required prostitutes to be unmasked so that they were easier to keep track of as well as to make sure there was no confusion about what they were selling.[17] Probably, these are ladies maids as their dress and proximity to the noblewoman suggest a higher station and it unlikely a prostitute would be allowed anywhere near a noblewoman. In addition, Longhi would not have depicted prostitutes as it would have been offensive to his clientele and gone against the social milieu through which he moved.  It is important to note, however, that the merchants who commonly appear in Longhi’s work are unmasked so as to promote the spectacle they are selling as well as to maintain that distance between the noblemen and women who watch them.

 


[17] James H. Johnson, Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001),107-108.