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
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