A MONKEY TRAVESTY
Gaspare Diziani, Italian, 1689-1767

SN 182, oil on canvas, c 1717-1721

From "The Pages

ARTIST:
Gaspare Diziani was born in Belluno in 1689 & took his earliest training there with Antonio Lazzarini (1672-1732). He moved to Venice where he joined the workshop of Gregorio Lazzarini & later that of Sebastiano Ricci, who exerted the strongest influence on his development. Early on he worked as a scenery painter in many Venetian theaters.

He was married in 1731, & had 10 children. Two of his sons became painters, & frequently worked with him: Giuseppe (1732-1803), a history painter, and Antonio (1737-97), a landscape painter.

An enthusiasm for narrative led him to paint decorative cycles on both sacred & secular themes. Drawings form a significant part of Diziani’s oeuvre, & he is also documented as an official restorer of public paintings. In 1760 he succeeded Tiepolo & Pittoni as president of the
Accademia di Pittura Veneziana, of which he had been a founder in 1755. He died in a café in the Piazza San Marco in Venice in 1767.

Diziani’s works reveal 2 contrasting tendencies that make it difficult to date his work: a refined & geometric style, inspired by Ricci; and a style inspired by the more rounded forms of classical sculpture. His speed of production & technical assurance are demonstrated especially in his preparatory oil sketches, with color applied in rapid & spirited pen-like strokes.

SUBJECT:
Here is a genre scene in which courtiers visit the kitchens where servants are at work…but all the figures we see are monkeys, not humans. They “ape” their betters, wearing costumes appropriate to the stations of their human counterparts.

PAINTING:
The monkey or ape had been introduced earlier, primarily as a witless imitation of man, and employed satirically – e.g., Titian’s rendering of the Laocoön as 3 apes. By the mid-17th c, the monkey was often used to satirize either the imitative artist or the connoisseur. At the end of the century, however, monkey pictures had largely become bizarrerie to amuse and delight a less serious audience. Both Gaspare & his son Antonio were painters of monkey scenes.

The L-shaped interior of the room, with an arch and a window, and the scale of the monkeys & their activities, are remarkably close to Tenier’s monkey compositions.

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