The painting depicts a capriccio with several classical ruins surrounding a square where the performance of a commedia dell’arte is taking place. At the center of the scene there is a stage on which there are some actors who are acting, one of them wearing pulcinella clothes. In the middle of the stage a puppet theater, with which the actors in flesh and blood interact.
In the square in front there is a heterogeneous and colorful crowd of characters, who flock to watch the show. Some of the back rows are, however, distracted by other figures in the foreground: among them aristocrats on horseback and noblewomen accompanied by their children. Imposing ancient ruins act as architectural backdrops: classical temples now in disuse and invaded by lush vegetation frame the scene, while in the background other majestic buildings are lost in the distance, almost merging with the mountains on the horizon. The rendering is that of an almost surreal landscape, a real whim in which non-existent architectures are juxtaposed.
Attention was paid to the rendering of light both in the representation of the characters and in the architecture, but also in the representation of the atmospheric data, with a clearer light and less attention to detail as it moves away from the first floor. Considerable is the representation of the blue sky turning towards a pink light near the mountains, as if the episode took place in a twilight moment.
Dimensions: 57 x 92 cm
with frame: 74 x 108.5 cm
At least from the 1920s the painting was attributed to Jacque Callot, the name with which it was published in the Drouot auction, held in 1924, and formerly owned by the Parisian gallery Georges Petit. Here, together with its counterpart, another oil on canvas of a similar subject and size was presented. This attribution is justified by possible comparisons with the series of Balli di Sfessania, a work by Callot, dated to 1621.
In fact, the twenty-four engravings reproduce the protagonists of the Commedia dell’Arte, the central theme of our canvas as well. In particular, Pulcinella appears in ours, a topical and highly characteristic mask, certainly one of the best known, while the pendant depicts Razullo, also present in Callot’s engravings. The two paintings were exhibited, again as autographs by the French artist, in the exhibition “De El Greco a Tiepolo”, held in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires in 1964 (as evidenced by a label applied on the back of the frame), when they were already owned by Juan Manuel Acevedo Chevallier and later by his daughter, Countess Deym von Stritez, Estela Acevedo Anchorena. They remained in the possession of the heirs until 2016, when the two canvases returned to the antiques market and were separated; even the pendant to ours is still on the market today, currently in the catalog of a renowned New York antiques gallery.
The correct attribution to Gherardo and Giuseppe Poli is due to Franco Canepa who published both canvases as a four-handed work by the two artists, in the monographic volume on the activity of painters. Supported by the stylistic analysis and the comparison with the production of the two Florentine artists, but active above all in Pisa, the ascription of the work to the hand of the father and son Poli painters is now well established. Canepa presents the canvas as an unpublished work of the Poles, who want to develop the singular concept of theatrical double, rendered through the presence of the theater with puppets on the stage on which the actors are already playing. The scholar also, comparing ours with other canvases belonging to the corpus of the two painters, supports the realization of the architectural scenographies by Giuseppe, as recurring motifs in his works. The characters are instead in the style of Gherardo, made with rapid brushstrokes that effectively outline the volumes.
The dating between 1725 and 1730 is due to Canepa himself, who points out that the two works must have been made in this rather limited chronological period, during which this close and fruitful collaboration between father and son is found.
Gherardo Poli was born in Florence in 1676, as evidenced by the baptismal certificate kept at the Opera of Santa Maria del Fiore, dated January 19. His activity as a painter must therefore probably have begun during the last decade of the century. Gherardo was certainly a student of the Florentine Academy of Drawing, First Company of Painters in Pisa, in 1706. The Sienese artistic environment was influenced, at the beginning of the 18th century, by a Roman classicist culture, following the presence of numerous exponents of the Academy of Arcadia, gathered in the Florentine city in 1700, at the Colonia Alfea. Despite this certainly important presence, Gherardo’s artistic culture was more oriented towards that anti-pedantic program which developed in response to the academic one and which is actually found in several of his works.
From the very beginning, Gherardo showed in fact that he appreciated and wanted to deal with the theme of whims, often influenced by Flemish and Dutch painting that ours would have known through the mediation of Marco Ricci, whom he met during a stay in Florence. During this trip he certainly had to come into contact with Jacques Callot, to whom he was strongly indebted, as evidenced by the confusion in the attribution for some works of the Poles, including our canvas.
Unfortunately, as Franco Canepa has already pointed out in the monograph on the two artists, in contrast to the presence of a large number of works by the Poles on the market and in the most important collections, there is a scarcity of documentation on the two artists. The few contemporary biographical information is known thanks to the brief annotation of Francesco Maria Niccolò Gabburri in volume III of his Lives of painters: “Gherardo Poli from Florence, painter of villages with vague figurines and sea ports, of which he mainly prevails and where he makes special exhibitions of its value. He lives in Pisa in 1739, around the age of 60, having settled in that city with his family for many years. He has a son who happily follows the vestiges of his father at the age of about 25. “
From this indication we therefore know that at the end of the 1930s Gherardo was now permanently residing in Siena and that his death must certainly have occurred after 1739, the date on which Gabburri indicates him as still alive. Certainly there is less information for his son Giuseppe, whose biographer does not even indicate the name but gives the age, thus allowing to limit the year of birth to 1714. The son was certainly influenced by his father’s painting and therefore by the different languages artists with whom he had come into contact. Particularly during the third decade of the eighteenth century their art was characterized by close collaboration, often resolved with the creation of four-handed works, as indeed happened for our work and its counterpart.
Equally uncertain is the date of Giuseppe’s death, but the lack of his activity for the celebrations in honor of Pietro Leopoldo’s appointment as Grand Duke in 1765, may lead to the supposition that the activity of the Poles must be considered concluded by that date, being their highly regarded painters and whose works were in high demand at the time.
De El Greco a Tiepolo, exhibition catalog (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, 24 August – 27 September, 1964), Buenos Aires.
– Franco Canepa, Gherardo e Giuseppe Poli; La pittura di Capriccio nella Toscana di primo settecento, Felici editore, Ospedaletto, 2002, pp. 107-108, cat. no. 69.
– Franco Canepa, Fantastiche Vedute dal Ciaffieri ai Poli: La pittura di capriccio in Toscana, a cura di Pierluigi Carofano, Felici editore, Ospedaletto, 2006.