Two punchinellos--masked hunchbacks dressed in white suits and tall hats--accost a drunken woman. One punchinello leans into and leers at the woman; the other lifts her long skirt from behind. Two other punchinellos lurk behind the woman, only their hats visible. Like the punchinellos, the woman sports an elaborate hat and a beaklike nose. She has perhaps been mistaken for a kindred, and compliant, spirit.
The character of Punchinello, and his similarly dressed companions, first appeared in Italian theater in the 1600s. His buffoonery and ribald behavior made him an immensely popular figure in Venetian street performances. His Italian name, Pulcinella, suggests that Punchinello's family tree included chickens, an ancestry confirmed by his beaklike nose.
Here, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo has depicted the punchinellos on an especially lascivious and even sinister outing. Tiepolo produced more than twenty punchinello drawings, and they were most likely made as independent works for collectors rather than studies for paintings or prints.