For a long time, Pietro Longhi’s genre scenes were understood as rather ambiguous works of art, especially with respect to their questionable belonging to modern culture. On the one hand, the painter’s matter-of-fact realism and his emphatic penchant for everyday life scenes made him the Carlo Goldoni of painting, an astute observer of people’s costumes, customs and conventions. On the other hand, his medium-sized canvases were regarded as products of a waning Venetian culture, as visual recordings of a specific lifestyle in the Serenissima that should finally come to an end when Napoleon conquered the Republic in 1797. Departing from this rather contradictory evaluation in art historical research, this contribution attempts to take a fresh look at Longhi’s genre paintings: they are to be understood as visual media of self-observation and self-description of Venice in the 18th century, that is to say as paintings that not only portray given social realities, but also stage them with genuinely pictorial means. In order to analyse Longhi’s artistic strategies, different aspects of his oeuvre are brought into perspective, such as his ways of narrating anecdotes that often deal with situations of seeing and being seen or his idiosyncratic depiction of interiors.