An Itinerant Dentist and a Theatrical Troupe

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Italian (active Venice, Würzburg, and Madrid) 1727 - 1804

c. 1790

Pen and gray-brown ink and gray-brown wash over black chalk on laid paper

Sheet: 14 11/16 x 19 13/16 inches (37.3 x 50.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the SmithKline Beckman (later SmithKline Beecham) Fund for the Ars Medica Collection, 1981

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Son of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Giovanni Domenico worked both as an independent artist and as his father's assistant or associate on oil and fresco decorations for churches and palaces. In the 1790s he did a number of ink and wash drawings recording everyday life in Venice. Here a traveling dentist sets up shop on a temporary raised platform that he shares with an itinerant theater troupe, both occupations striving to attract as much public notice and as many customers as possible.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The scene shares features with caricature--the square figure with triangular hat at the left--but is actually a carefully observed occurrence of daily life in the artist’s hometown. No one is astonished that the dentist, just passing through town with his tools, needs to set up his practice on the corner of a temporary raised platform that he shares with a traveling commedia dell’arte troupe. Each needs to attract a following, and what better way than to elevate themselves on boards set up on sawhorses? It has been pointed out, in connection with this drawing, that by the 1790s brutal extraction was no longer the sole means of treating dental problems: a considerable body of dental literature existed by then, and techniques for filling, transplanting, and replacing teeth were available (Philadelphia 1985, p. 180, notes 6-8). The itinerant tooth-puller occupied the lowest rung of this professional hierarchy and often traveled in the company of mountebanks or the wandering musicians and actors who followed seasonal fairs and sought out public piazzas for their performances. Giandomenico’s figures in his paintings, drawings, and etchings, whether sacred or secular, are always naturally posed and grouped, suggesting that he worked from sketches done from life. They seem to occupy space in a recognizable world, which is why it is so easy for the viewer to adapt to the apparent exoticism of this scene, which--despite its theatrical trappings--simply describes a day at the dentist’s, with all its attendant anxiety. The drawing is part of a group that the artist did in the 1790s which, along with the Punchinello series, constitutes an extended narrative satire on life in late eighteenth-century Venice (Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum; Stanford, California, Stanford University Museum of Art. Domenico Tiepolo's Punchinello Drawings. Exhibition organized by Adelheid M. Gealt. Essay and catalogue by Marcia E. Vetrocq. Bloomington: Indiana University Art Museum, 1979). Other drawings of the same size and medium and of related subjects are scattered throughout public collections in North America: the Art Institute of Chicago (57.309); the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio (37.572, 47.13); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Robert Lehman Collection, G92 1, G691); and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (17580). Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 57.

    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ars Medica: Art, Medicine, and the Human Condition. Exhibition catalogue by Diane Karp et al. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985, no. 37, repro.;
    Udine, Castello di Udine; Bloomington, Indiana University Art Museum. Domenico Tiepolo: Master Draftsman. Exhibition catalogue by Adelheid M. Gealt, George Knox, et al. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press; Milan: Electa, 1996., no. 150, repro.;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Crowning Achievements: Dentistry in the Ars Medica Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Exhibition catalogue by William H. Helfand. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999., no. 29.