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Pietro Longhi and the Peace Behind the Mask

After five centuries of protracted warfare, the eighteenth-century introduced Venice to a new era of peace. This newfound peace was much desired and ushered in a changed outlook, with many Venetians taking a break to enjoy the delights of their city and focus less on ensuring the city’s political and economic power. The Venetian “gaze” turned inward to the pleasures and celebrations to be had rather than outward where in times past, the city wished to ensure its ruling power.  In the 1740s, the Venetian painter Pietro Longhi began to paint genre scenes of the nobility that emphasized them taking part in seductive and debauched activities. Longhi was able to get away with painting such illicit scenes because oftentimes these upper-class men and women were masked. Masks protected individuals, like that of the nobility, from censure as they placed a distance between the outside world and the wearer. This distance allowed the wearer to maintain society’s expected level of decorum and morality. It is apparent that Longhi painted for the nobility and I think this is what ultimately guided his subject matter. Pietro Longhi’s paintings are not simply genre scenes showcasing Venetian life but are born out of the Venetian nobility’s desire to maintain the city’s peaceful survival.

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