It’s carnival time in Venice, and masked revellers mingle in this listless crowd of pleasure seekers and the curious. One man in a sinister white mask under his black hat eavesdrops as a young woman has her palm read. Is he a lover or would-be lover? He seems old, conniving, unreliable – but that may just be his mask. In the background a woman with a black mask over her face is in conversation with a respectable bewigged man in officious robes. It might be a sexual transaction, since it was reported by an English visitor that Venetian courtesans went around in such masks. Pietro Longhi observes Venetian society in a way that’s comparable with his London contemporary William Hogarth, yet while the English artist is savagely satirical, this painting does not seem to judge.
• National Gallery, London.