This and the following lot are new additions to the group of perhaps only 25 drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo featuring Punchinello, a subject which was also to inspire his son Domenico. Punchinello first appears in drawings of circa 1735, such as the Punchinelli cooking gnocchi in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris (E. Brugerolles, Les dessins vénitiens des collections de l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, exhib. cat; Paris, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, 1990, no. 51) and then appears regularly in finished drawings made for collectors until the late 1750s, as for example the Group of Punchinelli seated in the Robert Lehman Collection (B. Aikema, Tiepolo and his Circle, exhib. cat., New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library and elsewhere, 1996, no. 80). The drawings were immediately sought after by connoisseurs, as shown by Count Francesco Algarotti's proud boast in a letter to Pierre-Jean Mariette in 1761 that he possesses 'the most beautiful Punchinellos in the world, from the hand of our famous Tiepoletto' (quoted in B. Aikema, op. cit., p. 198).
Punchinello was a popular figure of the Commedia dell'Arte subverted in Venice in the 18th Century into a clownish figure wearing the tight white suit, tall hat and beaked carnival mask worn by boys in the San Zeno quarter on the last Friday of Carnival.
Many of Tiepolo's drawings show Punchinello celebrating this occasion, Venerdi gnoccolare, when vast amounts of gnocchi and red wine are consumed, to the detriment of the participant's digestion. A drawing of an unconscious Drunken Punchinello in the Thaw Collection perhaps shows the effects of the feast (copied by Fragonard and engraved by Saint-Non for the Griffonis, F. Stampfle and C.D. Denison, Drawings in the Collection of Mr and Mrs Eugene V. Thaw, exhib. cat., New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, and elsewhere, 1976, no. 48).
The present drawing is unusual in this group in that it uses Punchinello to poke fun at a popular classical subject with similar satirical intent to Domenico's famous Divertimento per i Ragazzi series. The drawing shows the poignant moment when Belisarius, the great general who recovered much of Western Europe for the Emperor Justinian but was falsely accused of treason and ruined, is recognised by one of his men as a blind old beggar on the streets of Constantinople.