Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Venice 1727 - 1804)
The Childhood of Punchinello, circa 1800
Pen and brown ink, brown wash over black chalk, 29 x 41 cm
In the late 1790’s, or perhaps in the first years of the 19th century, Giandomenico Tiepolo, an old man living in retirement at his family’s villa at Zianigo, embarked on a series of drawings illustrating the life, adventures and death of Punchinello, the enterprising hump-backed trickster of the Commedia dell’Arte. The title page is inscribed Divertimenti per li Ragazzi - Entertainment for Children. Mr. J. Byam Shaw, in his exemplary study of Giandominico’s drawings, writes: ‘One may imagine… that the charming frescos of similar subjects on the walls and ceilings of the villa at Zianigo were popular with the neighbouring families that the children asked for more, and that he drew these scenes in the winter evenings, and told their story, simply to amuse those children when they came to visit him’.
The drawing reproduced here must have figured among the earliest of the series since it shows an incident in Punchinello’s upbringing. Quite what is happening it is difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Giandomenico, while recording certain episodes common to traditional lives of Punchinello, evidently embellished the story with others invented by himself. Is the bird, which the comely young woman holds beyond Puchinello’s reach, merely a plaything, or is it an example of the free, irresponsible life which the boy must follow when he grows up? It is neither caged nor in a string, other birds are shown wheeling happily in the sky beyond. Whatever the subject, Giandomenico has created a characteristically sparkling image which unites the essentially urban sprightliness of the Commedia dell’Arte with the rustic simplicity of his villa and its surrounding countryside.