A drawing by Rococo master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo has been rediscovered in the attic of Weston Hall, the Northamptonshire seat of the literary Sitwell family. The pen, ink and wash drawing depicts a group of Punchinelli, a buffoonish commedia dell’arte stock character that Tiepolo drew repeatedly from the late 1720s through the early 1760s. This is an earlier example, dating to the early 1730s, and is one of the largest, most populated and most detailed of the three dozen or so Tiepolo Punchinello drawings.
Tiepolo, in contrast to his son Domenico, who shows Punchinelli engaged in everyday activities in his Divertimento per li Regazzi, portrays his Punchinelli making and eating gnocchi, and suffering from the excesses of overindulgence. The subject derives from a regional festival, “venerdì gnoccolare”, which took place in Verona on the last Friday of Carnival.
George Knox, the Tiepolo art historian, suggests that this drawing is among the earliest of the Punchinello drawings because of its fine line and delicate, even use of wash. He further proposes that this drawing may be linked stylistically with the studies for the Villa Loschi at Biron, executed around 1734. The present drawing, and others of this period, undoubtedly mark the moment that Tiepolo’s draftsmanship assumes its mature form.
The drawing was acquired by Sir Osbert Sitwell at a Christie’s auction of the famous collection of Old Master drawings of the late London banker and art collector Henry Oppenheimer in July 1936. For some inexplicable reason, the drawing wound up forgotten in one of Weston Hall’s attics. It was only rediscovered last year when Henrietta Sitwell, Osbert’s grand-niece, found it leaning against the attic wall and peeled back the bubble wrap it was swaddled in to find a surprise Old Master.
The Tiepolo drawing will go under the hammer at Dreweatts auction house with the other contents of Weston Hall at a two-day sale on November 16th and 17th. It has been conservatively estimated to sell between £150,000-£250,000 ($207,000-344,000), but a comparable piece sold at auction in New York in 2013 for $542,500, so even the high end of the range is something of a low-ball figure.