The scene takes places under a Venetian building, probably the portico of Palazzo Ducale, and represents a group of people in the foreground. On the left there are two young women covering their heads with the back of the apron, as in the Venetian fashion of the time. One of them is facing a man who is pictured from behind and talking to her, raising a finger of his right hand. There is a young peasant man with a blue apron tied around his waist carrying a basket full of fruit and two young men, very different from each other, doing some strange activity. One of the two is a fortune teller who foresees the future. He is elegantly dressed in a red overcoat and a white wig, standing on a wooden table. He has a long stick on his mouth, which he has partly covered with a white handkerchief. The other end of the stick is in the ear of a man who is standing beside the table, under the other man. The fortune teller is telling something to the young man, who listens to him carefully after questioning him about something important to him.
The painting reflects Pietro Longhi’s various interests in the society of his time and the fact that he did not limit himself to representing only the rituals and daily life of the aristocratic or bourgeois class. Here the painter depicts a scene in the city with common people, thus offering a truly complete picture of his time and Venice in the mid-18th century.
As in his portraits and painting of Venetian noble houses, the scene is depicted with great accuracy and attention to detail, but without any moralizing intent.
In fact, the artist was very attentive observer of the reality of his time and for this, the painting is influences by the Anglo-Saxon models, especially by those of William Hogarth, who was a very observant interpreter of his time.
However, Longhi limits himself to describing just of little piece of the daily life of this less privileged class, which he seems observe without any criticism towards the fortune teller of the situation of the poor people who represented a large part of the Venetian society. In this situation Longhi was different from Hogarth, who expressed some provoking social satire and moral protest against the society of the time instead.
The writing on the top of the left column reads “Per Piovan/in San Fantin/pre’ Zuanne” and it probably refers to the election of the parish priest of the church of San Fantin di Giovanni (Zuanne) Pecchion on 6 August in 1759. This date gives the painting a historic meaning and helps to place the canvas on the timeline between the late 1750s and the early 1760s.
There are two drawn copies preserved at the Museo Correr in Venice. These are two preparatory studies that are characterized by a careful attention to every single detail, which refer to the fortune teller standing on the table and the balance of the farmer who carries a basket of apples.
The work, which is signed on the back, was donated to the Gallerie dell’Accademia together with other paintings of similar style, size and subject by the Venetian nobleman Girolamo Contarini in 1838.
Pietro Longhi was born in Venice as Pietro Antonio Falca, a son of a silversmith and he got his name of art “Longhi” when he was already an adult.
Originally from the Dorsoduro district, Pietro trained in his hometown first with his father, then with the Veronese painter Antonio Balestra, who greatly influenced his first works, based on the Venetian color tradition.
After a period of sacred paintings and fresco decorations, such as the one in the staircase of Ca’ Sagredo, where he painted the Fall of the Giants, starting from the 1730s he was influenced by the naturalism of Giuseppe Maria Crespi, whose paintings he saw in Bologna. He began to paint real subjects such as peasants and rural people. However, from the 1740s’, he started to paint scenes with characters and interiors that resembled those of the Commedia dell’Arte. Longhi depicted conversations inside the famous Venetian salons, including the daily activities of the aristocracy – the dance lessons of a young lady, the toilet, the visit to a lady, while also depicting the bourgeoisie and common people – during important life moments, such as marriage. This kind of painting is strongly influenced by the English conversation scene, especially by the works of William Hogarth, which Longhi had seen in prints in Venice, but which differ from these examples because Pietro’s work tends to miss the satirical character and the ferocious moral and social criticism that is the essence of the English artist’s works. Longhi was also inspired by his fellow citizen Rosalba Carriera, who was highly sought after by the British people who stayed in Florence, and by the paintings of the French artist Antoine Watteau.
Pietro became a successful artist and he was appreciated by his contemporaries, especially by the local aristocracy, for his capacity to depict Venice of the time and the life of all social classes. Among them was also playwright Carlo Goldoni, who praised the artist for his works. In fact, Longhi lived during the Venetian golden era in the 18th century, which was captured in his paintings before the final fall of the Republic and all its glory in 1797.
In 1737 became a member of the Venetian Frangia, the guild of painters, while twenty years later, in 1756, he enrolled at the prestigious Accademia di Venezia, which was presided over by Giovanbattista Tiepolo at that time.
Longhi was also an acknowledged portraitist for his ability to describe in detail the clothes and interiors with a realistic and subtle style. Longhi son Alessando was also an admired painter and his follower.
Pietro died in Venice in 1785.
The Accademia of Venice was founded in 1750 and the opening of the Gallerie dell’Accademia was linked to it with primarily educational purpose: in 1803 a decree established the need to adjoin a gallery next to the school that was used by the students who studied painting and sculpting.
In 1817 the gallery was opened also to the public. The gallery is located in the area of Dorsoduro, down by the Accademia bridge, in a complex including the church of Santa Maria della Carità, the Canonici Lateranensi convent and the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, all situated in a single floor, divided into twenty-fours and covering 5537 square meters.
The first section of the collection includes the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Pietà by Titian (1538) and the Triptych of the Madonna della Carità by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna (1480).
The collection also includes essays by the students of the academy and a collection of plaster casts (hence the plural name, gallerie) which were put on display in the exhibition with success in 1817.
The collection was enriched with the paintings brought from defeated France and with the masterpieces that were left to the museum by great collectors. However, the paintings were always linked to the Venetian culture and this feature was tried to overcome for the whole 20th century. Among these works was the legacy of Felicita Reiner (in 1833, but only formalized in 1850), which included masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca’s St. Jerome, Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child and Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene. The legacy of Girolamo Contarini (1838) included 180 works, among them Madonna of the Small Trees and the Four Allegories by Bellini, and six paintings by Pietro Longhi.
The emperor Franz Joseph grew the collection with Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna and Mantegna’s St. George, Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Giorgione’s Old Woman. The gallery was radically reorganized in 1895 by the director Giulio Cantalamessa. He excluded all the 19th century artists and for the first time the exhibition was organized chronologically. He coordinated the cycles of the School of St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio and the School of St. John the Evangelist by Cima da Conegliano, previously divided in various locations. Under the direction of Gino Fogolari (1905) the museum acquired other fundamental masterpieces, such as the Tempest by Giorgione and the Crucifixion by Luca Giordano and the Feast at the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi.
In the post-war period the museum performed various changes, for example Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which was supposed to be placed in a specially designed room, was returned to the Frari church in Venice instead. The 19th century works that were already excluded from the exhibition were sent to the deposit at the museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro and the foreign art in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. In the 1940s’ Vittorio Moschini and Carlo Scarpa wanted to perform a modern reorganization of the museum, including the 19th century salons, but which resulted quite impractical in the end. In these years Francesco Guardi’s Fire in the Oil Depot of San Marcuola and Montagna’s St. Peter and Donor became part of the collection.
In 1987 director Sciré decided to increase the exhibition space opening the gallery on the fourth floor with the graphic collection and a new deposit was opened on the top floor of the Palladio building. In the same year the collection was enriched with two cherubs and two allegorical figures representing Justice and Patience, taken from Giorgio Vasari’s ceiling in a room of Palazzo Corner on the Grand Canal. Between 2001-2003 the gallery was renovated expanding the exhibition areas and adding modern lightning in the rooms.