No joke: Two Punchinello clown drawings emerge at auctions on the same day08 November 2021 Rare drawings of 18th century commedia dell’arte clowns by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) are to be offered at auction at Roseberys and Dreweatts.
The hook-nosed, humpbacked clowns over indulging at the Verona Carnival were stock characters in the commedia dell’arte (an early form of professional theatre) and fascinated Tiepolo. He produced as many as 100 comical drawings on the theme. However today only 36 are known and many are in museums.
The sketch at Dreweatts, which was rediscovered in one of the safes at Weston Hall, depicts a group of Punchinelli making gnocchi during the Verona carnival and suffering from the excesses of overindulgence.
As part of the city’s custom, young men from the poorest district of San Zeno, dressed up in costume and gathered at the Palazzo del Podestà to invite the mayor to the town square for a glass of wine and a plate of gnocchi, followed by a fiesta of eating and drinking until dawn.
The sketch had been purchased by the Sitwells at the Henry Oppenheimer sale of Old Master Drawings at Christie’s in 1936 and it is now estimated at £150,000-200,000 at Dreweatts in the November 16-17 sale.
Other Tiepolo drawings have appeared at auction over the years, including Punchinellos feasting that made £995,250 including premium at Christie’s in December 2019.
At Roseberys, the 8 x 9in (20 x 23cm) black chalk, brown ink and wash on paper depicting three Punchinelli figures around a gnocchi pot dates from the late 1730s. Last sold at Sotheby’s in 1974, it has a guide price of £20,000-30,000 at Roseberys' Old Master and 19th century picture sale on November 17.
At Dreweatts, the Sitwells: A Family Legacy sale includes nearly 600 lots from the eminent family of writers, eccentrics and creatives.
Other stand-out items include a Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) portrait estimated at £60,000-100,000 and a rare Ottoman Atlas by Mahmud Raif Efendi described as ‘the first large folio world atlas printed in the Islamic world’ guided at £20,000-30,000.