Lot 49
  • 49

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

250,000 - 350,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
  • A Puppet show
  • Pen and brown ink and different shades of brown wash over traces of black and red chalk; 
    signed in pen and brown ink: Domo. Tiepolo in
    bears numbering on the verso in blue chalk: 790 and b 790 and recent pencil inscriptions: Blatt 44) and pasp. u RM


Private collection since the 1960s


A.M. Gealt and G. Knox, Giandomenico Tiepolo, Scene di vita quotidiana a Venezia e nella terraferma, Venice 2005, p. 42; p. 165, no. 63, p. 192, no. 88, 'Il teatro dei Pulcinella'


Condition report carried out by Jane McAusland on 22 June 2017: Support This beautiful, strong drawing is on a sheet of white laid paper and transmitted light shows a large complex watermark in the centre of the sheet incorporating crescents. There are two, small losses in the upper right corner at the top edge, towards the left. A mount stain is visible within the image and unevenly placed. The sheet has some very slight foxing and a crease across the lower left corner. A small pinhole shows top centre on the tent. Medium The medium is in an extremely strong and good condition. There is a little loss of ink, lower left on the crease and two abraded areas, one above the hat of the puppet master and the other on the shoulder of the hatted gentleman below him. The top edge shows another slight loss. Note: This work was viewed outside studio conditions.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This delightful drawing with the most entertaining subject 'Il teatro dei Pulcinella', was only known, until now, through an etching by Teodoro Viero (1740-1819), first recorded in 1879 by Urbani de Gheltof.1   It is one of Giandomenico's 'Scene di vita quotidiana', called by Byam Shaw The Contemporary Scene, the series, of about one hundred drawings, that he described as the most original of all Giandomenico's contributions to Venetian art, mostly representing 'the life and amusements of the bourgeoisie or the humbler sort of people.'2  

This sheet, part of a consistent group within the series, slightly smaller in size, of which four drawings are now known including the present one, seem to have been intended as the preparatory studies for six coloured etchings, published by Teodoro Viero, after Giandomenico, which are in the same direction as the original drawings.  The print related to the present drawing (fig. 1), as well as the other five, bears on the margin: G. Dom. Tiepolo inv. Appo Teodoro Viero Ven., followed by satirical verses.3  Byam Shaw observed: 'These drawings are the near contemporaries of the Caprichos of Goya',4 and felt that they expressed a political and social satire, which he believed to be the taste of the time, more than a reflection of the artist's personal views.  

The six drawings for Viero's prints were probably the last works executed by the artist on the theme of Venetian life, and must date from the end of the century.  Very unusually for Giandomenico, many of the drawings in the 'Scene di vita quotidiana' series are dated, mostly to 1791, but one seems to be dated 1800.5   These are generally, as here, finished, pictorial horizontal compositions, created as independent works in their own right, and not preparatory for paintings. 
Only these six etchings document that the artist must have been persuaded to provide drawings, surely very popular, for a publisher for the consumption of a much wider audience.6  Satirical and political prints were widely circulated at the time after the French revolution, especially in France and England, and many of these must have found their way to Venice.

As Gealt and Knox have observed, some elements in this scene are also to be found in an earlier drawing by Giandomenico, A Punch-and Judy show on the quayside, formerly in the collection of the Duc de Tallerand.7  On closer examination, however, the similarity seems not to extend much beyond the fact that they share the same subject.  The point of view in the present sheet is much closer to the viewer, who becomes part of the crowd of spectators.  The latter are drawn in the immediate foreground, giving us the perception of a direct involvement in the scene.  Even though the main protagonist of the scene should be 'Pulcinella', here appearing with another puppet, wearing a ruff (perhaps a Pierrot), every single figure is drawn to express a specific character, enlivening the amusing and witty composition.  Some of the characters, can be found in previous drawings; see for instance, the standing cleric with the large dark cloak, who also appears center right, in the 'School', a sheet in the Lehman collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York.8
Also particularly characteristic of Tiepolo's scenes of Venetian life is what Byam Shaw describes as 'a dash of caricature', an element typical of the artist's later years, and surely inspired by his father's successful caricatures of single figures, which he owned, and often copied and reused in his own compositions.  Byam Shaw wrote that the origins of this series could be traced to the frescoes painted by Giambattista and Giandomenico together in 1757 for Giustino Valmarana, in the 'Foresteria' of his villa near Vicenza, pointing out the striking difference between Giandomenico's modern and direct approach in describing the scenes from daily life, and his father Giambattista's more traditional interpretation of similar subjects, still conceived in the grand Venetian manner.

Drawn with liveliness and strong and vibrant outlines, with an exquisite application of the wash, extended in varying tones to cover almost the whole surface of the sheet, this is an example of Giadomenico's extraordinary talent as a draftsman.  Like his father, he makes brilliant use of the white of the paper to create the highlights, giving life to the whole composition, with a striking chiaroscuro effect.  It is clear that although Giandomenico did look back for inspiration, he expressed himself in a fundamentally modern and innovative way when representing the world around him.  Admired and collected as much today as they were 200 years ago, these genre subjects became Domenico Tiepolo's greatest contribution to the art of his time, and their fame and has endured throughout the centuries.

1. G. M. Urbani de Gheltof, Tiepolo e la sua famiglia, note e documenti inediti, Venice 1879, p. 95, no. 3, titled 'Il Casotto de Pulcinelli'

2. J. Byam Shaw, The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, London 1962, p. 48

3. The verses on the related etching are: 'A te chi fia che lodi non comparta/ Di lui che pinse qui, genio profondo!/Ecco in poche Figure, e in una Carta/Tutto ridotto quanto è grande il Mondo'

4. Byam Shaw, op. cit., London 1962, p. 51

5. A.M. Gealt and G. Knox, op. cit., p. 151, no. 51

6. The titles of the etchings are: La danza dei cani; L' Altalena; Il Casotto de' Pulcinelli; Il Cavalier Servente; La Ricreazione; Il ballo dell'Orso

7. Whereabouts unknown; A.M. Gealt and G. Knox, op. cit., p. 126, no. 31, reproduced p. 124

8.  New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. no. 1975. I. 512;  A.M. Gealt and G. Knox, op. cit., p. 155, no. 57, reproduced p. 157