Giandomenico Tiepolo, Pulcinella, and the powers that be

"L'altalena dei Pulcinella" (1783), Ca' Rezzonico

Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), son of the more famous Giambattista, celebrate Pulcinella in a number of paintings and drawings.

Pulcinella is a traditional Neapolitan mask who mocks and derides the powerful and finds odd solutions to apparently impossible quandaries. He was one of the subjects portrayed in the frescoes Tiepolo painted in two periods, between 1759 and 1797, for the family villa in his hometown, Zianigo, Venice (currently kept at the Ca’ Rezzonico Museum in Venice). Pulcinella was also central in the series of 104 drawings titled “Divertimento per li regazzi” (“Fun for Kids”) that Tiepolo created in the late 18th century.

This extravagant character of the Commedia dell’Arte – ambiguous, two-faced, elusive, sarcastic – effectively voiced the crisis that European society suffered at the time, caught between the end of the Ancien Régime and high expectations for a new world, fueled by the French revolution.

Today, Pulcinella continues to look at the powers that be with irony and diffidence, always ready to expose the rhetoric of what Leopardi called “magnifiche sorti e progressive” – the blind belief in humanity’s destiny to make great progresses.

July 15, 2014