Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, ‘Two Monkeys on a Rock’, Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

This drawing is one of a group of studies of various animals and birds that have been dated to the latter part of Domenico Tiepolo’s career, after his return from Spain in 1770, and perhaps as late as the 1790’s. James Byam Shaw has associated these drawings with the fresco decoration of the Tiepolo family villa at Zianigo, near Padua; most of the frescoes in the rooms of this small country house were detached in 1907 and are now in the Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice. Remnants of several overdoor frescoes, depicting various animals in landscape settings, remain in situ in the villa, however, and several of Domenico’s animal drawings correspond exactly to these1.

Most of these drawings of animals by Domenico incorporate a ledge or dado at the bottom, and Byam Shaw suggested that they may have been intended for a frieze running around the upper walls of one or more of the rooms in the Villa Zianigo. He further noted that a number of studies of animals by Domenico seem to have been based on prints by other artists, notably Johann Elias Ridinger and Stefano della Bella, as well as paintings and frescoes by his father, Giambattista Tiepolo. As Byam Shaw has perceptively written, ‘It is perhaps a little disappointing, or at least disconcerting to our present ideas of artistic proprieties, to find that so few of the animals were drawn from life...But experience of Domenico’s methods does not encourage illusions in this respect; and generally it was not his way to trouble himself with a living model if a pictorial one, his own or someone else’s, was at hand.’2

The sitting monkey in this drawing, who seems to be catching a flea, appears in a number of other works by Domenico Tiepolo. He appears, for example, at the extreme left of a drawing of eight monkeys in a landscape, formerly in the collection of Paul Wallraf3, as well as in a genre drawing of Dancing Bears and Monkeys on a Country Road of c.1791, at one time in the Beurdeley and Lehman collections4. A similar (though not identical) monkey is found, in reverse, in Domenico’s drawing of A Procession with a Camel and Monkeys, which, like the ex-Beurdeley and Lehman sheet, was part of the group of genre drawings known as the Scenes of Contemporary Life, datable to c.17915. Byam Shaw has further pointed out that the same monkey appears, in reverse, in Giambattista Tiepolo’s etching of A Young Shepherdess and Old Man with a Monkey, one of the series of prints by the elder Tiepolo known as the scherzi di fantasia6.

Similar monkeys appear in a handful of other drawings by Domenico Tiepolo, notably a sheet of studies of animals in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Lyon7 and a drawing of a Monkey Swinging on a Parapet, and Two Monkey Skeletons, formerly in the Heinemann collection and now in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York8. A pen and wash drawing of a seated camel and a monkey holding a dead bird, signed with the artist’s initials, was formerly in the collections of Thomas Fine Howard and William S. Paley in New York9.

  1. James Byam Shaw, ‘The Remaining Frescoes in the Villa Tiepolo at Zianigo’, The Burlington Magazine, November 1959, pp.391-395.

  2. James Byam Shaw, The Drawings of Domenico Tiepolo, London, 1962, p.45.

  3. Ibid., p.82, no.48, pl.48.

  4. Byam Shaw, op.cit., 1962, p.86, no.64, pl.64; Adelheid M. Gealt and George Knox, ed., Giandomenico Tiepolo: Scene di vita quotidiana a Venezia e nella terraferma, Venice, 2005, pp.99-100, no.13 (as location unknown). A related subject, with the same monkey, occurs in a large, hand-coloured etching after Domenico (Gealt and Knox, ed., op.cit., pp.187 and 192, no.86A, illustrated p.190 [incorrectly as no.86]).

  5. Gealt and Knox, ed., op.cit., pp.96-97, pp.99-102, no.15 (as location unknown).

  6. Aldo Rizzi, The Etchings of the Tiepolos, London, 1971, pp.68-69, no.21. While the dating of the twenty-three Scherzi etchings has remained problematic, with opinions ranging from the mid-1730’s to the late 1750’s, they appear to have been produced over a period of at least a decade.

  7. Inv. 512/1; Lyon, Musée Historique des Tissus, Dessins du XVIe au XIXe siècle de la collection du Musée des Arts Décoratifs de Lyon, exhibition catalogue, 1984-1985, p.52, no.40.

  8. Inv. 1996.133; Byam Shaw, op.cit., 1962, pp.81-82, no.47, pl.47; Felice Stampfle and Cara D. Denison, Drawings from the Collection of Lore and Rudolf Heinemann, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1973, p.63, no.115, pl.115.

  9. Sale (‘Property from the Estate of William S. Paley’), New York, Sotheby’s, 14 January 1992, lot 107; Dario Succi, ‘Disegni di Giandomenico Tiepolo nella collezione Italico Brass’, in Gealt and Knox, ed., op.cit., pp.74-75. The monkey in this drawing is derived from an etching by Johann Elias Ridinger.

Signature: Signed "Dom.o Tiepolo f." in brown ink at the lower right.

Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection, 2009, no.108.

Clifford S. Ackley, ‘Master drawings from the collection of Horace Wood Brock’, The Magazine Antiques, February 2009, p.55, illustrated p.55, fig.7; Horace Wood Brock, Martin P. Levy and Clifford S. Ackley, Splendor and Elegance: European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection, exhibition catalogue, Boston, 2009, p.156, no.108, illustrated p.110.

Trinity Fine Art, London and Milan; Flavia Ormond, London; Private collection.

About Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo’s first teacher was his father, the infamous and accomplished Italian Renaissance artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Though sometimes remembered in art history as having lived under his father’s shadow, Tiepolo developed his own style and began independently working for commissions starting at the age of 20. He produced paintings, engravings, and drawings for both secular and religious purposes. Among his most famous works were the frescoes depicting scenes from commedia dell’arte, a celebrated early form of improvisational theater. This subject became an important motif in many of Tiepolo’s later works: His mature paintings often featured a central protagonist named “Punchinello,” a clown inspired by characters from the commedia (and a precursor to Punch of "Punch and Judy".)

Italian, 1727-1804, Venice, Italy, based in Venice, Italy