The Punchinello Riding a Camel at the Head of a
The eldest surviving son of the celebrated 18th-century Venetian painter, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Giovanni Domenico (Giandomenico) Tiepolo achieved fame in his own right with a series of 104 large drawings that illustrate the colorful life and death of Punchinello, a character from the popular Commedia dell’Arte. From an album entitled Divertimenti per li Ragazzi (Entertainments for Children), these drawings depict Punchinello and his attendants’ inclination towards childish behavior, which makes them at once vulnerable and ridiculous. No known literary text forms the basis for these drawings. The stories were most likely handed down orally, in accordance with the tradition of popular theater, in which actors extemporized and embroidered at will. In all of the depictions, Punchinello, a sly, lazy antihero, wears a white costume, a ruff about his neck, a conical hat, and a black mask with a beaked nose. The proposed drawing portrays at its center the vain-glorious Punchinello seated atop a dromedary with one arm akimbo and the other holding a decorative staff. As he proudly leads a caravan of camels across an arid landscape, Punchinello scouts ahead to a pyramid-like structure which locates this theatrical procession in the Egyptian desert. Punchinello’s companion at right looks back at his master as he ushers along a basket-laden woman and her small child. Meanwhile a mangy dog at left looks out at the viewer as if in disbelief at this procession of fools. By his careful application of golden ink on a brilliant white sheet of paper, Domenico conveys the bright sunlight of the foreign locale, made all the more exotic with the inclusion of palm trees. Using his own etching of the Flight into Egypt as the basis for the composition, Giandomenico draws a playful relationship between the comic scene of Punchinello and the solemn biblical episode. Made at the end of his career and executed solely for his own pleasure and that of others, the sheet is one of the finest examples of Domenico’s ability to render compelling farcical diversions that both mock and charm in the same moment.
Brush and brown ink over black chalk on laid paper (late 1790s)
by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727-1804)
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