Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Collection in Focus: Domenico Tiepolo's "Punchinello" Drawings

With over 300 drawings by Giambattista and Domenico Tiepolo, this collection is one of the strengths at the Morgan. John Marciari, Charles W. Engelhard Curator of Drawings and Prints, takes a close look at two beloved 18th-century "Punchinello" drawings by Domenico Tiepolo.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
Punchinello Riding on an Ass in Procession of His Fellows
ca. 1797-1804
Pen and brown ink with brown wash, over black chalk, on paper.
10 3/4 x 15 7/8 inches (273 x 403 mm)
Gift of Lore Heinemann, in memory of her husband, Dr. Rudolf J. Heinemann.

Venetian artist Domenico Tiepolo, and his father Giambattista, elevated the art of drawing to new heights. The artists' layered delicate veils upon veils of ink washes atop bright white paper to create dynamic scenes animated by the syncopation of light and shadow. The Morgan Library & Museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of their work, with more than 300 drawings by the pair. Domenico's talents are exemplified in a series of lively depictions of Punchinello, a clownish character first developed in Italian commedia dell'arte (or popular theatre) of the seventeenth century.
Punchinello held a special significance for the Tiepolo family. Giambattista turned the commedia dell'arte figure into an everyman capable of playing multiple roles. Domenico took the idea even further making Punchinello the primary subject of the frescoes in the family villa, and of the 104 drawings that constituted a series given the falsely naïve title Divertimenti per li ragazzi, or “Amusements for kids.” The drawings--which remained together until the twentieth century--convey a rough narrative of Punchinello's life and picaresque adventures. Yet they can be read like a catalogue of the biblical, mythological, and contemporary-life subjects that Domenico and his father had painted and drawn. Indeed, part of the drawings' charm comes in recognizing how they play off those earlier works. While looking back to the history of art in the grand manner, stretching from the Renaissance to Giambattista's day, Domenico's final series has a sly self-consciousness that is distinctly modern.
Punchinello Riding on an Ass in Procession of His Fellows represents a key element of the Tiepolos' conception (and mythology) of Punchinello. Riding on an ass, holding aloft an oversized fork, Punchinello is here the Papà del Gnocco, Father Gnocchi, in the Venerdì Gnocolare festival held during Carnival in Verona. Yet the composition bears an unmistakable resemblance to depictions of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem, the origin of the Palm Sunday festival.
-John Marciari


Watermark: three crescents in a row.

Anonymous collection, London; sale, London, Sotheby's 6 July 1920, part of lot 41; Richard Owen (1873-1946), Paris; Brinsley Ford (1908-1999), London (Lugt S. 936g); his sale; London, Sotheby's, 10 November 1954, lot 40, repr.; Dr. Rudolf J. Heinemann (1901-1975) and Lore Heinemann (1914-1996), New York.
Associated names: 

Owen, Richard, former owner.
Ford, Brinsley, former owner.
Heinemann, Rudolf J., former owner.
Heinemann, Lore, former owner.


Stampfle, Felice, and Cara D. Denison. Drawings from the Collection of Lore and Rudolf Heinemann. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1973, no. 113, repr.