Pietro Longhi has often been considered the chronicler of Venice, a painter who was able to enter the salons of the nobility and bourgeoisie, and relate the daily life of his patrons, viewing them in a less formal manner than the numerous Venetian portraitists were used to in his day. While this is true (and it highlights the desire to appear “true to life” as Enlightenment ideas started spreading in Venice well before the mid-18th century), the quality of Pietro Longhi’s painting — sometimes underestimated by critics — should not be forgotten. His subjects were very close to reality — and this fact, the object of much misunderstanding, has led to reams being written about the artist’s supposedly ironic attitude — and are rendered in an almost miniaturist style, made more gentle by a chromatic scale using light tones, still clearly bound to the poetics of the Rococo style, in a manner reminiscent of the works of Amigoni.
One of Longhi’s recurrent types of painting is the group portrait, of which this Patrician Family , which can in all probability be dated to the mid-18th century, is an excellent example. We do not know who the people are, but they are captured in the intimacy of their drawing-room, with very lively colours and a powerful graphic style. They are certainly members of an important family of Venetian nobles, with the old heads of the family (the older one sitting on the right with a stick, the other in profile, standing with a grandson in his arms), the wife of one of them, their sons with their wives and children: in any case, this is a group Longhi was able to portray with affection — not just in terms of their exterior features and their clothes, but also of their good-naturedness.