Fortune tellers were a popular attraction during the Venetian Carnival, celebrated during the 40 days of Lent. The one here is reading the palm of a fashionable lady; a fruit seller with a full basket stops to watch and a masked figure leans forward for a closer look. One woman, however, stares intensely towards us.
Longhi has placed the scene in one of the arcades of the Doge’s Palace. The inscription on the pillar probably refers to Francesco Loredan, who was elected Doge of Venice in 1752. On the wall behind, another inscription relates to the election of a priest for the parish of San Trovaso. Compared to the muted background, the foreground has plenty of patterns and textures, like the fortune teller’s embroidered skirt and her client’s lace shawl and flowing dress.
During the annual Venetian Carnival, celebrated during the 40 days of Lent, vendors of all kinds entertained the crowds from booths set up in and around the Piazza San Marco; puppeteers, magicians, astrologers and charlatans alike were depicted by Pietro Longhi in many of his paintings. Among the major attractions there were also exotic animals, such as lions, elephants and even a rhinoceros.
Fortune tellers were a popular attraction during carnival season, and the one here reads the palm of a fashionable lady. A fruit seller with a full basket stops to watch and a masked figure leans forward for a closer look, but one woman stares intensely towards us. The rather unusual-looking object balanced on a simple chair and table is a speaking tube, used by the fortune teller to convey private information to a client. In the background, a man in a long robe and white wig, perhaps a government or church official, talks to a woman in a black mask; these figures are placed at a higher level to suggest a recession of space.
Although the background is rather muted, as was common in Longhi’s paintings, the foreground has plenty of patterns and textures, like the richly embroidered skirt of the fortune teller and the delicate lace shawl and flowing white dress of her client. Longhi chose to locate this group very precisely in one of the arcades of the Doge’s Palace in the heart of the city, where booths and stalls, like the one set up here, were manned by market sellers and performers. The inscription on the pillar probably refers to Francesco Loredan, who was elected Doge of Venice in 1752. On the wall behind, another inscription relates to the election of a priest for the parish of San Trovaso.
Longhi belonged to a family of artists working in Venice; he, like his son, Alessandro, mostly painted scenes of daily life, often showing wealthy Venetians in interior settings, such as A Lady receiving a Cavalier and A Nobleman kissing a Lady’s Hand.
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