GHERARDO POLI
(Florence 1676-Pisa, after 1739)

A Performance from the Commedia dell’Arte set in a Piazza

Oil on canvas, 22 ¼ x 36 ¼ inches (56.5 x 92 cm)

 

Provenance:

Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1924
Juan Manuel Acevedo Chevallier, Paris and Buenos Aires (until 1980); by descent to his daughter:
Estela Acevedo Anchorena, Countess Deym von Stritez (until 2012); thence her Estate until 2016

Exhibited:

De El Greco a Tiepolo, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, August 24-September 27, 1964, exh. cat., cat. no. 17 ill. as by Jacques Callot

Literature:

Franco Canepa, Gherardo e Giuseppe Poli; La pittura di Capriccio nella Toscana di primo settecento. Ospedaletto (Pisa) 2002, pp. 107-8, cat. no. 68 ill.

Franco Canepa, in Fantastiche Vedute dal Ciaffieri ai Poli; La pittura di capriccio in Toscana, ed. Pierluigi Carofano.  Ospedaletto (Pisa) 2006, pp. 150-151, cat. no. 78 ill.

 

Gherardo and Giuseppe Poli were father-and-son painters active in Pisa in the early eighteenth century.  As Franco Canepa has indicated (written communication, 2017), the present painting is an outstanding example of the Poli’s capriccio compositions.  A town square of elaborate fanciful architecture is the setting for an outdoor stage on which a commedia dell’arte production takes place.  A large, somewhat boisterous, group of townspeople gather round the stage to watch the play, while others in groups go on about their business  The performers include the masked figure of Pulcinella at the right, and at the far left Razullo, stroking an excessively long lute.  In a print by Jacques Callot (to whom the present painting was once attributed) a depiction of Razullo is set before an outdoor stage strikingly similar to that seen in the present work (see below).  As Canepa has pointed out, our painting is in many ways unique in Poli’s oeuvre, in that the curtain backdrop behind the actors is itself a capriccio of ancient buildings, much like those in the fictive town square in which the painting is set. 

Canepa has written of our painting:

The “scene della commedia dell’arte” are very rare and important for an understanding of the poetic construction of the Poli’s art. The painting shows two levels of performance: in the back the scenography with architecture and statues in baroque style and the scene with masked actors; in the front the public acting a new “performance” for the observer. The details, the touch of the brush, and the colours are typical of Poli’s method of painting. The work was painted around 1725/1730, in the period of close cooperation between father and son, and reveals the hand of Gherardo in the figures while the architectural structures are by the hand of Giuseppe.
The Poli’s art is reminiscent of that of Callot drawings, but the poetic is quite different: here we are facing the end of Medici’s dynasty and the modern buildings, like the dynasty, are breaking down -- but the people are still acting their role as in a theatre! A very rare and well preserved work of high quality.