A rococo ballroom of the villa had “white walls, festooned with gold foliage and rams’ heads, making a background for Longhi caricatures, savants and punchinellos with hugh spectacles and bulbous noses.” [TK 82/76]
Pietro Longhi (1701/2 – 1785) played the position of genre painter on the All Star team of eighteenth century Venetian painters. Powell has already introduced him when describing Mrs. Erdleigh in The Kindly Ones.
The Pharmacist (shown left) is the best we have found so far for a Longhi image of a bespectacled savant, but the spectacles are not all that big.
Punchinello (Pulcinello in Italian) was a popular character in commedia del’arte, the sixteenth and seventeenth Italian tradition of travelling troupes bringing masked plays to the rural population. By the eighteenth century, the troupes had waned, but individual Punchinellos would perform in Venetian piazzas or appear at masked balls in characteristic costume as a paunchy hunchback wearing baggy pants and a high peaked hat. The bulbous nose combined phallic symbolism with a suggestion that he was descended from chickens. If you look closely at The Ridotto in Venice (see our prior Longhi post), just right of center is a masked Punchinello with the iconic hat; there is not quite enough detail to study the nose.
However, the Tiepolos, Gian Battista and his son Gian Domenico, were the true afficionados of Punchinello. [If you follow the link to the interesting essay by Erika Esau (1991), be aware that the captions for Figures 4 and 5 are reversed.] The elder Tiepollo did a number of etchings of fantasies and folk figures in his Capricci and Scherzi. His son did 104 Punchinello drawings as Divertimento per li regazzi (entertainment for children) and between 1759 and 1797 painted a series of Punchinello frescos for the family villa at Zianigo, near Venice. These were removed from the villa in 1906 and many of them now hang in the Ca’ Rezzonico, a Venetian palazzo that has been converted to a museum of the eighteenth century.
Dr. Brightman, seeing the caricatures, says, “How much they resemble our fellow members of the Conference.” [TK 82/76] Perhaps she was referring to the savants, but the mythic lechery of Punchinello foreshadows some of what follows.