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The pictorial wit of Domenico Tiepolo

By Sophie Bostock


This thesis takes a new approach to Domenico Tiepolo’s (1727-1804), Divertimento Per li Regazzi (c.1795-1804), it is arguably the artists most enigmatic graphic work, which features the commedia dell’arte character Pulcinella. The drawings have hitherto been subject to rigorous connoisseurial analysis. Indeed, in his introduction to ten of the drawings in a catalogue of Italian Eighteenth-Century Drawings in The Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, James Byam Shaw states that this particular series of drawings has now become so famous ‘that it is hardly necessary to add to the literature of the series.’1 In my opinion it would be a great pity if future generations of scholars were discouraged by this remark, for I believe the drawings still have much to ‘tell’ the contemporary art historian and would further benefit from increasingly interpretative readings. Previously, scholars have regarded Domenico Tiepolo as an imitator of his father, Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), and interpreted the re-appropriation of motifs in the Divertimento as signs of old age and fatigue. I suggest, on the contrary, that in this series of drawings in particular, Domenico was an innovator. \ud This project carves out new territories within the study of the series in that it focuses on the playful nature of the drawings, and how the suite can be understood in relation to contemporary theory concerning games and play, and ludic musical/improvisatory forms. Additionally, the drawings are discussed as a case history in a now popular emerging dialectic on the late works of aged artists: here I consider how these drawings, often funny, poignant, sensitive and delicate reveal how the elderly painter reconciles himself not only to the passing of his own life and the extinction of his family line but to an entire political, cultural and visual tradition

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