The Property of a Trust Few artists have taken up the challenge of following in the footsteps of a celebrated father with more filial loyalty, talent and inventiveness than Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804). The eldest surviving son of one of Europe’s greatest painters of the eighteenth century, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Domenico was taught by his father, and earned his first points as an etcher reproducing the elder Tiepolo’s inventions, and as an assistant on some of his grandest decorative schemes, at the Residenz in Würzburg (1750-1753), the Villa Valmarana near Vicenza (1757), and those commissioned by the royal court in Spain (1762-1770), where Giambattista died in Madrid in 1770. Despite his astounding skill and success in mimicking his father’s style, Domenico produced works of his own invention from the late 1740s. Already in the first of these efforts, a series of paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross (painted for San Polo, Venice, and still in situ), they display at times a tenderness and elements of fancy in a way that Giambattista’s more solemn and monumental works do not. Although he continued to find inspiration in the Bible, and in mythology and allegory, Domenico increasingly turned to subjects of which the realism and simplicity represent not so much a break from Giambattista’s art as an extension of it, to the extent that the name Tiepolo now evokes the father’s solemn and monumental works as much as the often more easily engaging charm of those of the son. It is arguably in his later pen and wash drawings that Domenico’s personality shines through most brightly, and nowhere more so than in three extensive, ambitious series of similar size from the end of his life: the ‘New Testament’ series, which he started working on around 1785 and numbers over three hundred sheets; the ‘Scenes from Contemporary Life’, some of which are dated 1791, based on Domenico’s observation of everyday life in Venice and the terraferma; and what can be called his swansong, the 104 drawings that make up a series titled ‘Divertimento per li regazzi’ (Entertainment for children), also known as the Punchinello series, preceded by a title page preserved at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City (fig. 1). Full of quotations from works by himself, his father and earlier artists, the three series of drawings were clearly made as independent works of art, and indeed many of the sheets are signed. They treat their subjects in appropriately distinct ways, but are fully coherent in their style, richly elaborated as they are in different shades of brown wash barely contained by the fluid penwork, over an often quite summary chalk underdrawing, and displaying a brilliant use of the white paper to create highlights; they nearly all illustrate a predilection for compositions inhabited by figures placed close to the foreground; and they demonstrate – even in many of the Biblical scenes – the artist’s quick wit, his gift as a storyteller, and his taste for the anecdotal. The kaleidoscopic emotional range and the stylistic and narrative exuberance of the hundreds of sheets in the series seem almost intended to prove the draughtsman’s inexhaustible powers of invention, rather like the 104 symphonies of Domenico’s almost exact contemporary, Joseph Haydn. In contrast to the biblical source of the ‘New Testament’ series, the Punchinello series is not inspired by any known literary text. ‘For all we know,’ wrote James Byam Shaw, ‘Domenico may have invented a tale himself as he proceeded, after the ingenious fashion of the modern strip-cartoonist’ (The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, London, 1962, p. 54). The ‘real’ Punchinello was born in Naples in the seventeenth century, one of the main characters of the improvised popular theatre or commedia dell’arte. The early popularity of the malicious and boorish Pulcinella (to use his common Italian name) is attested by numerous depictions, and the spread of his fame all the way to the British Isles, where he became known as Punch. He made his entrance in the world of the Tiepolos in the 1730s, when Giambattista made his earliest drawings of the character, followed by numerous others later in his life (fig. 2). In Giambattista’s interpretation, Punchinello seems to have developed into a more good-natured creature, with a particular fondness for the soft dumplings known in Italian cuisine as ‘gnocchi’. Apart from the gnocchi themselves, Giambattista Tiepolo includes in many of his drawings the typical pots used to cook them in – a visual echo of the conical hats which his Punchinello dons. George Knox has convincingly shown that the association of Punchinello and gnocchi must originate in the Veronese festival known as ‘Venerdì gnoccolare’ (‘Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello Drawings: Satire, or Labor of Love?’, in Satire in the 18th Century, New York and London, 1983, pp. 131-133, 142-144; and ‘The Punchinello Drawings of Giambattista Tiepolo’, in Interpretazioni veneziane. Studi di storia dell’arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro, Venice, 1984, pp. 439-446). Gnocchi also appear in several of Domenico Tiepolo’s Punchinello drawings, including the title page of the series (fig. 1), where a dish of them stands in the foreground and the tomb-like structure at which Punchinello gazes is adorned with a collection of cooking pots. In one of the drawings offered here (no. IV in the present publication), Punchinello’s family is seated in readiness for a feast of gnocchi, served straight from the pot. Punchinello seems to have appealed even more strongly to Domenico than to his father, and the younger artist started to include him in other contexts as well as those involving gnocchi. His presence is central to the Metropolitan Museum’s Country dance from ca. 1755 (see frontispiece) and other similar paintings which suggest that at that period, Venetians were always in festive mood. It was several decades later, though, in the 1790s, that Domenico chose Punchinello to represent his joyful vision of life more fully. In the frescoes (now at the Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice) decorating his villa at Zianigo on the mainland, Domenico painted Punchinello’s boisterous activities on a large scale (fig. 3). And during these final years of the artist’s career, when the eighteenth century came to a close and the Venetian Republic was conquered by Napoleon’s troops, Domenico also turned to Punchinello and his extended family for his last, and perhaps the greatest of his series of drawings. ‘It is the culture of that vanished world that Domenico, with nostalgia and humor, mythologized and immortalized in the Divertimento’ (L. Wolk Simon, Domenico Tiepolo. Drawings, Prints, and Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 67). The ‘Divertimento per li regazzi’ was rediscovered as an unbound series at a Sotheby’s sale in London on 6-7 July 1920, lot 41, described as ‘One Hundred and two Carnival Scenes, with many figures’ (Apart from these 102 sheets, the lot also included the title page. Two drawings were separated from the group at an earlier stage, one of which went missing. The other drawing, mentioned below, came to the Morgan Library and Museum with the Fairfax Murray collection.). Bought by the London firm of Colnaghi, the drawings were subsequently acquired by a British dealer based in Paris, Richard Owen, who exhibited the series in full in 1921 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in that city. Soon afterwards began their slow and steady dispersion, which has long made it difficult to grasp the narrative of the series. Several publications from the last decades, especially Adelheid Gealt’s book of 1986 (Domenico Tiepolo. The Punchinello Drawings, New York, 1986), which reproduces all sheets, have led to a better understanding of the story and significance of the series possible. But while Gealt believes the order is basically loose, allowing for several storylines, George Knox has argued that the numbers at upper left outside the framing lines on the sheets, almost certainly in the hand of Domenico himself but unfortunately not fully documented, must indicate the proper way of reading the life of Punchinello (op. cit., 1983, pp. 125-131, 144-145). The series starts with the ancestry and childhood of Punchinello, and opens with one of the more fantastical scenes, the birth of Punchinello’s father from an egg hatched by a turkey (no. I). We see him playing battledore and shuttlecock as a child (no. II). In his youth or adolescence, he is briefly arrested (fig. 4; see Gealt, op. cit., no. 36) and imprisoned. During his wandering years, among other adventures, he seems to be abducted by an eagle (no. III). A section shows Punchinello in ‘various trades and occupations’, including at a fruit and vegetable stall (no. V), as a carpenter (no. VI), and as a portrait painter (fig. 5; see ibid., no. 54). His busy life as a mature man includes the pleasures of eating gnocchi, as already mentioned (no. IV). A closing section includes his burial (fig. 6; see ibid., no. 76), followed by the final scene – that of Punchinello’s Resurrection (ibid., no. 77). The six drawings offered here are part of a larger group of fourteen, all acquired in 1936 and 1937 by Brinsley Ford (1908-1999) (ibid., nos. 2, 6, 8, 16, 17, 20, 22, 27, 43, 48, 49, 51, 58, 70, ill.; see B. Ford, ‘The Ford Collection’, Walpole Society, LX, II, 1998, p. 99). ‘Merely an aesthete’ in his own words, Ford – as a Trustee of the National Gallery (1954-1961), a contributor and director (1952-1980) of the Burlington Magazine, and a member and later the Chairman (1974-1980) of the Art Fund – contributed greatly to these and many other endeavours in the British art world in the second half of the previous century (see F. Russell in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version, consulted 10 October 2019). He was knighted in 1984. Ford inherited part of his family’s distinguished art collection, particularly rich in works of the eighteenth-century Welsh landscapist Richard Wilson, but also made numerous major acquisitions himself, most notably a sheet by Michelangelo from the Oppenheimer collection, sold in these Rooms, 4 July 2000, lot 83. He wrote eloquently about Wilson (The Drawings of Richard Wilson, London, 1951) and other works in his collection (see Ford, op. cit.), and his extensive research into the Grand Tour provided the groundwork for John Ingammell’s Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy, 1701-1800 (New Haven, 1997). Of Ford’s Punchinello drawings, four were acquired in late 1936 from the Florentine art dealer Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi (Gealt, op. cit., nos. 2, 27, 43, 51), while the ten others came from Owen through the Matthiesen gallery in early 1937. They were exhibited together in Exeter in 1946, before two were sold at Sotheby’s in London on 10 November 1954, lots 40, 41 (ibid., nos. 43, 70; now at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Morgan Library and Museum, respectively). Even without these latter sheets, Ford’s remaining twelve formed the largest group of Punchinello drawings still together. The earlier ownership of the series remains undocumented, although it has been claimed they come from the Guggenheim collection in Venice (see Byam Shaw, op. cit., p. 52, note 1). An Italian provenance is indeed likely given that the only surviving sheet which escaped the group prior to the 1920 sale was acquired by Charles Fairfax Murray from Alexandre Imbert’s gallery in Rome (now at the Morgan Library and Museum; see Gealt, op. cit., no. 29). Apart from the twelve sheets in the Ford collection, other large groups include the nine previously owned by Robert Lehman, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Gealt, op. cit., nos. 7, 14, 15, 28, 37, 44, 50, 53, 76); another nine at the Cleveland Museum of Art (ibid., nos. 23, 36, 39, 42, 46, 56, 64, 66, 68), of which no fewer than six entered the collection as early as 1937 thanks to the foresight of the eminent curator Henry Sayles Francis; and five at the Morgan (ibid., nos. 11, 12, 29, 70, 74), of which two are the recent gift of Eugene and Clare Thaw, and one is the drawing from the Fairfax Murray collection just mentioned. While these and several other American public collections own a large share of the drawings, European museums, on the other hand, have hardly any: we are only aware of two at the British Museum (ibid., nos. 32, 61), one at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (ibid., no. 99), and one donated to the Louvre in 2006 (inv. RF 36506; see ibid., no. 60). The present sale brings some of the most appealing and best preserved sheets from the series back onto the market. Although only a sample of the rich biography which Domenico painted of his hero, they give an idea of the fullness of Punchinello’s life, with an emphasis on the brighter days. ‘The unobtrusive satire, the topical anecdote, and the fantastic liveliness of the whole work make a place for Domenico all of his own, out of the shadow of his great father, in the history of comic drawing’ (J. Byam Shaw, ‘Some Venetian Draughtsmen of the Eighteenth Century’, Old Master Drawings, VII, no. 28, March 1933, p. 58). But, as Gealt remarked, ‘the Divertimento amuses, but it also enlightens; as such, it remains an incomparable legacy. Nearing his own death, Domenico taught us about life, through humor, understanding, compassion and hope’ (op. cit., p. 21). Punchinello may be at moments the object of our ridicule, but Domenico also made his pleasures and fears, his adventures and misfortunes, relatable and recognizable. Like Falstaff, he provides us with both a laughing stock and a mirror, and like that hero at the end of Verdi’s opera (also the final word of an aged and wizened artist), Domenico seems to tell us that ‘tutto nel mondo è burla’ – ‘everything in the world’s a jest’.
The birth of Punchinello’s father