The narrative created by Giandomenico does not appear to be based on any known text; the stories were most probably handed down orally, in accordance with the traditions of popular theatre. The intended sequence of the drawings is also difficult to establish because the numbers which appear, as here, on most of the sheets, were added after Giandomenico's death, possibly, as Byam Shaw suggests, by his executor. The drawings develop further the themes treated in the delightful grisaille frescoes of the Camera dei Pagliacci, in the Tiepolo family villa at Zianigo (1793-97) where Giandomenico spent the final years of his life.1 It was at this late stage in his career that he turned his attention to making several extensive suites of large, finished drawings. The Scenes of Contemporary Life (see the following lot), similar in size and technique to the Punchinello drawings, are in many cases - and unusually for Giandomenico's drawings - dated. They were mostly executed in 1791, although some must have been done later, at more or less the same time as the Large Biblical Series, which can be dated towards the end of that decade. The Punchinello series is the last of all and in many ways the most ambitious, with its extremely diverse narrative, ranging from intimate family scenes to exotic adventures. Byam Shaw suggested that the drawings can be grouped under five broad chapter headings: The Ancestry, Childhood and Youthful Amusements of Punchinello; His Various Trades and Occupations; His Adventures in Strange Countries; His Social and Official Life; His Last Illness and Death.2
In the present composition, brilliantly drawn and washed in two shades of brown ink, Punchinello, much to his companions' dismay, has collapsed on a country road. His typical sugar-loaf hat has fallen off and lies near him on the road. The scene is animated and crowded with the numerous friends coming to help Punchinello, all wearing the distinctive hat and the dark mask with the beaky nose. Another drawing, now in the Stanford University Museum of Art, depicts a similar scene where Punchinello has collapsed and lies by the wall of a villa.3 The reasons for Punchinello's distress are not known and some scholars have suggested a simple case of indigestion.4 There is a degree of playfulness in all these scenes, even when the subjects are more serious; Byam Shaw, taking note of the inscription on the title-page, suggested that the series was created for the amusement of young visitors at the family villa at Zianigo.
As Byam Shaw also observed, in the drawings from this series Giandomenico seems to go back more than ever before to earlier inventions, and to borrow more frequently from previous compositions, both from his own, especially the Contemporary Life scenes, and from those of his father. Indeed, it is in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's drawings and etchings from the middle of the 1730s that Punchinello appears first,5 for instance in Punchinello talking to two magicians (circa 1735),6 from the Scherzi di Fantasia, and thereafter he is to be found with some regularity in the work of both father and son. Despite being such late works, Giandomenico's Punchinello drawings from the great series to which the present sheet belongs are, however, still rendered with exquisite liveliness and always pervaded by a sense of amusement and a light-hearted spirit appropriate to the character of the 'hero' and his adventures. The Punchinello drawings, together with the scenes of Contemporary Life, can be considered the greatest contributions that Giandomenico made to Venetian art and will always be emblematic of his wit and fantasy in capturing a moment, and telling a story.
1. The frescoes of the Villa have been detached, and are now in the Museum of Ca' Rezzonico in Venice.
2. J. Byam Shaw, op. cit., p. 56
3. Inv. no. 41.277; A. Gealt, op. cit., 1986, p. 170, no. 73, reproduced
4. Gealt and Vetrocq, op, cit., p. 54
5. For more information on the Punchinello drawings by Giambattista see G. Knox, 'The Punchinello Drawings of Giambattista Tiepolo', Interpretazioni Veneziane, Studi di Storia dell'arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro, Venice 1984, pp. 439-446
6. A. Rizzi, L'Opera grafica dei Tiepolo, Le acqueforti, Milan 1971, p. 50, no. 12, reproduced p. 51
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