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The Discovery of the Tomb of Punchinello
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Eighteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This Eighteenth Century drawing by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) is something of a mystery. We’ve examined several drawings by Tiepolo previously. He often found inspiration in the characters from the Commedia dell’Arte, especially Pulcinella (Punchinello) and frequently depicted Mr. Punch’s ancestors in multiples and family groups.
This work of pen over red chalk has long been referred to as “The Discovery of the Tomb of Punchinello”—an English attribution, after-the-fact, based on Tiepolo’s other works more so than any context given in the piece itself.
The front of the drawing depicts a group of four men watching three others raising the slab of a tomb. The recto depicts Death giving audience.
Obviously, this is a study for a painting. Curators at the V&A--where this lives—have long thought that the piece was an early idea for Tiepolo’s “Scherzo No. 17” which was officially entitled “The discovery of the tomb of Punchinello.” The central figure is shown in a Franciscan habit, suggesting that, perhaps, a miracle of St Anthony of Padua was the inspiration for the scene.