GIOVANNI DOMENICA TIEPOLO
Pulcinella’s Father Brings Home His Bride
Pen and brush drawing in brown ink over black chalk on ribbed hand-made paper
Inv. No. 16834 (Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V.)
29.5 × 40 cm
Tiepolo was seventy years old when he embarked on his cycle on the life of Punchinello, which he presented on the title page as a »Divertimento per li regazzi« – a »Diversion for Children«. Like others of his kind, Punchinello – a popular Commedia dell’Arte figure of Neapolitan origin – is characterized by a humped back and a striking costume. Without using a literary source, the artist devised more than a hundred episodes, portraying Punchinello’s life in all its eventful turbulence, from the marriage of his parents to his own birth and, finally, his death.
The art world was unaware of Tiepolo’s Punchinello series until 1920, when it was sold at auction in London. At that time, too, the compositional and thematic independence of each of the large sheets led to the bundle’s being broken up. According to the numbering which indicates the sequence of the drawings, the present work was originally the fourth in the series. Like the others, it was executed with pen and brush in nuanced shades of brown.
The event is presented as if on a stage. The foreground is dominated by a crowd of people arranged in a horizontal row; we are granted only a – sometimes puzzling – view of them from the back. The illmatched bridal couple can be made out in the midst of the throng. The eccentricity of the bridegroom is eclipsed by the beauty of the bride, who is characterized chiefly by her clothing and posture, which radiate dignity and charm. The background is handled in a markedly two-dimensional way and, like the drawing as a whole, is lent animation by the painterly qualities of the wash, which is applied with masterful technique and subtle variation of tone.
Unlike his father Giovanni Battista, who had likewise devoted himself to the figure of Punchinello, Giovanni Domenico used the antics of this burlesque figure to hold up a satirical mirror to society. This approach is already perceptible in his frescoes for the »Camera dei Pagliacci« in the family villa in Zianigo (1793; Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice), but far more so in the Punchinello drawings, which were also produced there. These jeux d’esprit with their masked figures, devised by the artist for his own amusement, make incomparable vehicles for more or less openly mocking comments on society.
The fundamental historical transformations taking place at the end of the eighteenth century are reflected in the indirect pictorial language of these late Tiepolo drawings, just as they are in the Caprichos (1799) of Goya, who in this same period, in Spain, was disseminating his own critical social commentaries in the form of prints.