Peasants dancing Le Furlana
(Pietro Longhi)


This painting forms a pair to The Reception before a Wedding formerly in the Jack and Belle Linsky collection, New York. The P.L. monogram lower right confirms Pietro’s authorship which is in any case self evident. Longhi does not often sign his paintings but the calligraphy is similar to signed works such as The Elephant (Vicenza, Banco Ambrosiano Veneto) and The Lion Show (Venice, Fondazione Querini Stampalia).

Although our pair of pendants may seem unlikely companions on account of their differing subject matter, this is in no way at odds with Longhi’s intentions. His principal interest was in portraying faithfully the details of daily life and here he contrasts, with touching attention to the foibles of humanity, the differences between aristocratic and peasant life styles. At this point in his career he was moving away from his earlier style of arranging scenes as if they were history paintings, inherited from Antonio Balestra,[1] in order to concentrate more fully on the anecdotal and spontaneous representation of the daily scenes of Venetian life which he witnessed. Longhi’s master, Balestra, had suggested that he visit Bologna in order to broaden his outlook and indeed Crespi was to have a major impact on Pietro’s development though the younger master’s style is perhaps crisper and more precise.[2]

Longhi soon turned his skills to representing the fortunes or deceptions of love – the scherzo d’amore – in scenes such as The Washerwoman, The Drunkards (Zoppola, Castello), The Lettuce Seller (Bath, Longleat ) or The sleeping Peasant Girl (Venice, Fondazione Querini Stampalia).[3] In these vignettes the rural setting belies the presence of a number of salacious or erotic allusions – there are phallic symbols such as a salami, a long necked earthenware jar, a ladle for the polenta or the classic image of different birds in a cage.[4] Such scenes were usually inspired by Dutch or Flemish prototypes which had already begun to exercise an influence in the third quarter of the sixteenth century[5] and Giambattista Piazzetta also dabbled in similar imagery before progressively turning his attention to portraiture.

Our Furlana not only combines the imagery of a peasant dance with the eroticism of the scherzo d’amore but also aspires to being a group portrait. The scene takes place in the open air, though partially sheltered by a rustic porch or gateway. Some of the male participants, heated by wine clearly consumed with some abandonment as witnessed by the twin flasks on a pole, make merry and dance. Among the peasant girls a young lady of quality sits bemused and observing flanked by another, while the third dances. The richness of their gowns and the fan one of them clasps, partially open, perhaps to cool and offset the summer heat, set them apart from the peasant girls who are more simply attired in the left foreground. She is flanked by a young man and an old man who are also seated. The elder watches the dance, bemused, while the younger ardently flirts with the young girl in front of him, hand clasped to heart, murmuring sweet nothings, his eyes drawn to where young men’s eyes will always have a penchant to fall!

Longhi chose to depict peasants dancing a gig, generally known as La Furlana, on several occasions. The dance has its origins in the Friuli region and consists of a couple alternating in their steps while the companion watches, the whole executed to a jumping rhythm in a clockwise motion. An early example is the painting in Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, USA, (see Fig. 1); a derivation is in Venice in the Ca’ Rezzonico, and another version rather later in Pietro’s career, the La Furlana which was once in the Donà delle Rose collection, is now in Venice at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. Although the dance in all the pictures is the same, the instruments differ from version to version. A tambourine is the classic instrument for this dance but in our picture the frolic is accompanied by string instruments – a violin and a cello or viola. These same instruments are depicted in a fresco painting of similar subject matter in the Villa Widmann, Bagnoli di Sopra, by an artist who was also much influenced by Longhi, Andrea Pasto.[6] The musicians in our Furlana find their counterparts in one of Longhi’s aristocratic interiors where, perhaps in a more official capacity, they are probably rendering Vivaldi to a patrician assembly (The Concert, Venice, Accademia). This latter painting predates our Furlana as it was executed in 1741. Once again it is almost as if Longhi is trying to document every facet of his friends’ and patrons’ life-style. The three patrician ladies in our picture are captured in a moment of spontaneity, where class barriers are dropped, and they participate convivially with their social inferiors in merrymaking. Similar acts of spontaneity can be found among the pages of Carlo Goldoni’s plays. The celebrated Venetian comedian and playwright felt a close affinity for the painter when he wrote in Componimenti poetici per la felicissima nozze di Giovanni Grimani e la Signora Caterina Contarini in 1750 making specific allusions to Longhi: ‘you who are my sister muse – your brush ever seeks veracity’. This connection with Goldoni’s dedication of his work to the noble couple of Contarini-Grimani leads one once again to hypothesise about the original provenance of our La Furlana which, with its pendant Reception before a Wedding, may well once have hung in the collection of the Contarini di S. Trovaso or, more probably, in the Grimani collection. The Grimanis are documented as having had a number of paintings by the artist, some of which found their way into the Museo Correr in Venice, while one ended up as far afield as The Hermitage in St. Petersburg.[7]

If we are correct in surmising that these paintings had a Contarini or Grimani provenance then there is further circumstantial evidence to support the hypothesis and to explain the presence of five noble participants in our traditionally rustic dance scene. We know from documents that Zuanna Grimani sought to employ in service the most wide assortment of musicians including a certain Istrich and a certain Simonis,[8] who performed dressed in disguise as valets. Perhaps they are the two musicians in our picture disguised as country yokels and the whole tableau is indeed a burlesque or masque.

Once again a comparison with The Doughnut Vendor of 1750 (Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico) which shares similar brushwork and chromatic values with our pictures would lead one to believe that they were both painted not too long after 1750. This transitional period between Longhi’s early and mature styles in any case does not extend beyond the late 1750s and ends with a picture like The Cosmorama of c. 1757 (Venice, Fondazione Querini Stampalia). Perhaps the closest comparison to our picture is the Ca’ Rezzonico version of La Furlana of c. 1750 which shares similar cool tones in the highlights and an analogous spirit of impromptu invention in capturing the spirit of the moment.


[1] An example of this earlier more stilted style is the large fresco of The Fall of the Giants (1732) executed in Palazzo Sagredo.

[2] Any interesting comparison may be made between Giuseppe Maria Crespi’s and Pietro Longhi’s rendering of the theme of The Sacraments respectively in Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen and Venice, Fondazione Querini Stampalia.

[3] Cf. P. Sohm, ‘Pietro Longhi and Carlo Goldoni: relations between Painting and Theatre’, in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 45, 1982.

[4] A play on words – the Italian for a bird being slang throughout in Italy for the male member.

[5] For an example of such influence in the late sixteenth century cf. Bartolomeo Passaroti’s Two Market-women and a Boy selling poultry, gourds and onions, London, Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., Around 1610: The Onset of the Baroque, Exh. cat., London, 1985, no. 2, pp. 12-15, ill.

[6] Cf. R. Palluchini, La Pittura nel Veneto: Il Settecento, Milan, 1995, p. 398.

[7] Cf. F. S. Fapanni, ‘Intorno tredici quadri di costume veneziano dipinti da Pietro Longhi. Lettera ad Eugenio Bosa’, in Vaglio, 1838, pp. 306-8; I. Artimiera, ‘La Ventola maliziosa, in Capolavori nascosti dell’Ermitage, Exh. cat., Milan 1998, pp. 126-7.

[8] These two individuals were formally employed on 2 May 1753: ‘Since the man known as Istrich is able to play a variety of instruments he shall be obliged to perform at will at His Excellency, his master’s command, in any place.’ Cf. P. G. Molmenti, La Storia di Venezia nella vita privata, Trieste, 1973, III, p. 394.

24 1/8 x 19 ½ in. 61.2 x 49.5 cm
Oil on canvas

Jack and Belle Linsky, New York


Matthiesen Gallery, London, ‘The Settecento’, 1999

Where is It?
Private client of SSM
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Italian - Venetian
1999-Collectanea 1700-1800.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in London and New York, 220 pages fully illustrated with 46 colour plates. £30 or $40 inc. p.& p.

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