Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Clooney Wedding Seen Through the Eyes of Tiepolo

I hope you'll forgive me for using one of the most over-hyped and over-publicized events in recent Venetian history--would that the world press gave a 1/100th of such attention to the present controversy over a new canal that might profoundly impact the city's well-being!--in order to call attention to a marvelous Venetian-themed book that's been largely forgotten.

Published in 1986 by the excellent New York press George Braziller, Domenico Tiepolo: The Punchinello Drawings accomplished the remarkable feat of re-collecting in one volume the series of 104 drawings by Tiepolo that were last seen together in 1921 at a small gallery exhibition in Paris, before being sold piecemeal by an art dealer whose greed exceeded all art-historical or cultural scruples.

The large heavy Braziller volume (measuring nearly 40cm x 30cm, or 15.5 in x 11.5 in) with an introduction and notes by Adelheid Gealt, offers color reproductions of 77 of the drawings in full-page plates measuring 4/5 of their original size. Another 27 reproductions, derived from the black-and-white photographs shot of the series before it was broken up and scattered around the world, appear in smaller format at the back of the volume.

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo was the son of Giambattista, one of the art stars of 18th-century Europe, and the artist whose swirling gold and blue and pink ceiling paintings still wow visitors to Venice and to museums around the world. Domenico spent much of his life as his father's right-hand man, helping out on those grand commissions from the rich and royal with which Giambattista was constantly occupied. But Domenico's own talents found their greatest expression in more intimate and/or comic scenes.

I was happy to find a copy of the Braziller publication for just $75 (its original cover price in 1986 was $80, and used copies typically start at $110 and quickly jump to over $400) in New York's Strand Bookstore, as I've been fascinated for the last couple of years by the Pulcinella frescoes with which Domenico decorated his villa in Zianigo (now displayed in Ca' Rezzonico:

The series of drawings, like those frescoes, are from the last years of Domenico's life, starting around 1797. A period in which the entire world he'd lived in was coming to an end. Not only did the Venetian Republic give up its ghost with nothing more than a sad sigh in 1797 to Napoleon; not only was the aesthetic tradition in which his father had flourished being rejected and his father's once brilliant reputation cast into shadow; but, incapable of fathering any surviving children after a late May-December marriage, he knew the Tiepolo line itself was approaching its end. 

In the context of these endings, Domenico's Pulcinelli (the plural of Pulcinella)--characters from a theatrical form, the Commedia dell'Arte, which itself had been in serious decline since at least the 1750s--pursue headlong their high-spirited, often buffoonish and typically excessive pleasures.

I'll have more to write about Domenico's Pulcinella drawings and the Braziller book in an upcoming post, but for now (after writing more than I'd planned already), I'll simply say that somehow I've found that the Domenico frescoes (and now drawings) provide an interesting perspective on public spectacles in our own times. For the Pulcinelli, those awkward clowns tumbling heedlessly and at all costs after pleasure, were all about spectacle--if lacking in much sense.

The famously high-spirited bachelor was his usual boisterous self during his triumphal procession to the ceremony...
...but was the picture of earnest sobriety during the wedding beside his beautiful bride in her handmade gown.
The uninvited surrounded the route and settings of the gala festivities, hoping to catch a glimpse of high-octane glamor
And glamorous it was at the head table where...
...the groom, in spite of his A-lists guests all around him, only had eyes for his charming new wife
The wedding festivities went on for days, in the marmoreal splendor of palaces and in the open air
Until finally it was time for the groom to take leave of his most intimate guests and "the most romantic city in the world" and start his new married life with his lovely wife, dressed fashionably in bold vertical stripes


  1. These are so odd but beautiful. Thanks for sharing them, I didn't know of their existence.

    The groom is so short compared to the bride.

    1. Thanks, Laura, they are definitely odd, but so deftly done. I wish I could see them in person, as reproductions tend to make washes more opaque and variations in tone much more pedestrians-seeming than they are first-hand.