Edited by Luca Giunta Baroni

Although somehow obscured by Domenico Tiepolo’s famous Pulcinelli and Satyrs, the caricaturist activity of his father Giovanni Battista is by no mean inferior for wit, quality and richness.

Giovanni Battista’s first attempts with the satiric genre date back to the late 1740s, and they immediately became very popular. On 10 June 1761, writing from Bologna to Pierre-Jean Mariette, Francesco Algarotti boasts, in a rightly famous passage, of owning “some of the most beautiful pulcinelli in the world, by the hand of our famous Tiepoletto”.

These sheets are probably to be identified with the “twelve pulcinelli” mentioned in Algarotti’s inventory in 17801. Between 1754 and 1762, according to the dating proposed by Knox, Giambattista’s ironical drawings are pasted in three or more volumes, two of which, described as “a copious collection of humorous drawings by Tiepolo”, appear in the catalog of the Algarotti Corniani collection of 18542.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Gnoccolata, Museo Civico Sartorio, Trieste.
Fig. 1 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Gnoccolata, Museo Civico Sartorio, Trieste.

The third and probably last volume of this series (Volume terzo delle caricature) was dismembered and sold in London at Christie’s on April 9, 1943. The album contained 106 sheets, suggesting the existence of around three hundred sketches with the same subject. Today, about 200 humoristic drawings by Giovanni Battista are known. The most relevant groups are preserved at the Museo Civico Sartorio in Trieste and at the Princeton Art Museum3.

Despite the generic provenance of our sheet from the British art market, its small size, the subject and the characteristic octagonal outline in pen and brown ink, typical of the provenance from an ancient album, suggest that the Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, drawing also comes from Volume terzo delle caricature4.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Caricature of a hunchback, c. 1755-1760. Turin, Royal Library.
Fig. 2 Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Caricature of a hunchback, c. 1755-1760. Turin, Royal Library.

The fluidity of the execution, as well as the idiosyncrasies in the rendering of the hand and the hat, can be compared, among the many possible examples, to the Gnoccolata of the Museo Civico Sartorio in Trieste (fig. 1) and to the Caricature of a hunchback in the Royal Library in Turin (fig. 2), both dating from around the fifth decade of the 18th century5. Scholars have highlighted how, despite the brilliance of the subject, Tiepolo’s Pulcinelli elude complicity with the spectator6.

The serious and dignified aspect of our Pulcinella, aggravated by the hump and the funny hat but standing fiercely on his own legs with the help of the stick, make him a figure of deep melancholy and grandeur, all enclosed behind the impenetrable defence of his mask.

1 Giambattista Tiepolo: disegni dai Civici Musei di Storia e Arte di Trieste, exh. cat. (Trieste, Civico Museo Sartorio, 18.12.1988 – 2.4.1989), ed. by Aldo Rizzi, Milano 1988, pp. 35, 224, no. 30 (entry by A. Rizzi).

2 Tiepolo. A Bicentenary Exhibition, exh. cat. (Cambridge, Mass., Fogg Art Museum, 14.3-3.7.1970), ed. by George Knox, New York 1970, no. 1987 (entry by G. Knox).

3 Trieste 1988-1989, pp. 35, 224-225; Tiepolo. Ironia e comico, exh. cat. (Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, 3.09-5.12.2004), ed. by Adriano Mariuz, Vicenza 2004, passim.

4 We thank Anna Bozena Kowalczyk to have confirmed the attribution of the drawing on the basis of photography (written communication, 13.6.2022).

5 George Knox, Drawings by Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo at Princeton, “Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University”, XXIII, 1 (1964), pp. 2-28.

6 Adriano Mariuz, Tiepolo, ed. by Giuseppe Pavanello, Verona 2008 , p. 207.

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