Pietro Longhi, The Procession of the Venetian Bailo Francesco Gritti in Constantinople, Venice, signed and dated 1731
oil on canvas, framed, signed and dated lower right
105.5 by 128.5cm.
In overall good condition, minor areas of repainting visible under UV light and affecting mainly the trees on the left hand side and the architectural structure on the upper right side, minor restoration to some of the cloths of the people in the procession but the main figures are not affected, the canvas seems to be divided into two parts, minor chips to the frame, as viewed. We would recommend consulting a professional restorer for a more detailed condition report.
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Pietro Longhi is mostly known for his portraits of the Venetian upper-class society of the first half of the eighteenth century. His paintings usually represent scenes from everyday life of the noble class, with the subjects in various settings, for example going to the tailor, gambling, attending a concert or dining. This impressive canvas, depicting the procession of the Venetian ambassador Francesco Gritti, is a unicum for the artist, who must have been commissioned it directly from the ambassador himself, upon his return to Venice.
The painting shows a taste for Turquerie, a popular theme at the time: scenes depicting the Near East and in particular the Ottoman court were fashionable. Giovanni Antonio Guardi (1699-1760), for example, was active in Venice at the same time as Pietro Longhi and was renowned for ‘oriental scenes’ depicting the harem and various other settings of the Ottoman court. But while Guardi and other contemporary artists were more familiar with the subjects, this theme was relatively new to Pietro Longhi; only another canvas by him is known depicting Ottoman characters, it is titled Scena Orientale and it depicts three subjects dressed in Ottoman outfits arguing in front of a European nobleman (published in T. Pignatti, Pietro Longhi, Venice, 1968, fig.275).
Francesco Gritti was a bailo between 1723 and 1727. This painting is dated 1731, after his return to Venice, and it is likely that he personally commissioned it at the end of his post in order to commemorate his achievements at the Ottoman court. Gritti is also the subject of another painting by Jean-Baptiste Vanmour depicting his audience with Sultan Ahmed III in 1725, now in the Pera Museum, Istanbul, inv. no.AK7229514. Vanmour was a popular artist active in Constantinople and produced depictions of audiences with the Sultan for several ambassadors, including the Dutch Cornelis Calkoen and the Austrian Count Damian Hugo von Virmont (see Williams 2014, p.51).
Gritti is here portrayed on a white horse, wearing a lavish golden cape and hat and looking out at the viewer. He is part of a long procession, riding towards the Topkapi palace to be received by Sultan Ahmed III (r.1703-30). In the background can be seen the outline of the city of Constantinople with the domes of the mosques and their minarets visible on the horizon, with boats anchored in the middle distance.
At the end of his post, upon his return to Venice, Gritti compiled a detailed report for the Serenissima, describing the Sultan, his court and the politics around him. His account is dated 5 July 1727 and survives in the Archivio di Stato di Venezia (edited by M.P. Pedani, pp.885-948), providing us with a fascinating insight on the internal politics and duties of the bailo. The figure of the bailo was the official representative for the Republic of Venice at the Ottoman court, he was responsible for maintaining a good relationship with the Sultan and the court, protecting Venetian political and economic interests.
The picture we get of Ahmed III from Gritti’s report is a very frank and candid portrait, the Sultan is described as a very skilled in governing and as an educated man (E’ dotato di molto talent per governare; ama farsi leggere le memorie, o siano annali della monarchia, e le esposizioni dell’Alcorano, parla perfettamente e, contro il costume delli sultani, scrive il piu’ erudite che possa desiderarsi); but also as cruel and miserly (Quelli [vizi] che piu’ ne possedono l’animo suo, e con molta forza, sono quelli della crudelta’ e dell’avarizia). Gritti reports on every details of his private life, including his favourite courtesan, Defigan (p.887), his vizier Ibrahim Pasha and other members of the court (the mufti, p.893 and the tefterdar, p.894), each described with their respective virtues and vices. The report looks also at the state of the military and at commercial relations with other nations, as well as the foreign relations with Pussia, England and Holand (pp.937-8). Francesco Gritti left the post in 1727 to Zuanne Delfino (mentioned on p.947), and returned to Venice. This impressive painting commemorates his time in Constantinople.