The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum was founded in 1975 by the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions.
It conserves more than 5,000 items, including marionettes, marottes, hand puppets, shadow puppets, theatrical machines and playbills from all around the world. Among these, it houses the largest and most complete collection of pupi from Palermo, Catania and Naples, used in the Opera dei pupi, that is Sicilian traditional puppet theatre, proclaimed by UNESCO a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" in 2001.
The collection also includes objects and props used in the other puppet traditions which obtained the same award: the Japanese Ningyo Johruri Bunraku, the Indonesian Wayang Kulit, the Cambodian Sbek Thom; the Korean Namsadang Nori - Kkoktu-gaksi Norum, the Turkish Karagöz and the Sri Lankan Rūkada Nātya.
The collection also includes important contemporary works of art, namely those created for three shows produced by the Museum between the Eighties and the Nineties: a set design and puppets drew by Renato Guttuso for the show Foresta-radice-labirinto (Forest, Root, Labyrinth) written by Italo Calvino and directed by Roberto Andò (1987); the puppets and theatrical machines made by the Polish artist and director Tadeusz Kantor for the show Macchina dell'amore e della morte (The Machine of Love and Death – 1987); the puppets made by Enrico Baj used in the show Le bleu-blanc-rouge et le Noir performed by the Arc-en-terre of Massimo Schuster. Recently, the Museum has also acquired two sets of table top puppets made by Enrico Baj for two other shows by Massimo Schuster: Roncisvalle and Mahabharata.
In addition to the safeguard and conservation of artworks, the Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum carries out many activities aimed to promote puppet theatre such as the organization of exhibitions in Italy and abroad. The Museum pays also attention to the activityof production and education.
Confirming its cultural value, in 2001 the Antonio Pasqualino Museum was awarded the prestigious anthropological prize "Costantino Nigra". Moreover in 2017, it obtained the Icom Italy award as "Museum of the Year".
Puppets in history
The animation of images dates back to ancient times. In Mesopotamia and in Egypt the animation of the statues representing their gods was very usual during religious practices. In Greece and Sicily during the Classical period puppet shows were performed for entertainment. In all European countries we can find marionettes, hand puppets and pupi. In the Middle Ages profane and religious performances, such as the Nativity and the Passion, were performed in courts and in the streets, where figures would fight or dance, being manipulated with different techniques, such as jigging-puppets, bavastelli, marionettes or string puppets.
From the XVI to the XVIII century, Italy was an important centre from where string and hand puppet shows would spread. During the XVII century, in the string puppet theatres of the palaces, architects and experts used to produce fine performances addressed to the guests. In the XVIII century, the same theatres opened to the paying audience.
In the XIX century puppet shows spread to smaller towns targeting an audience with different social origins. Alongside the simpler hand puppet shows performed in the streets, some more complex ones, such as tragedies, dramas, comedies, variété and farces were performed also indoors. In the South of Italy pupi started to come to life to perform the chivalric repertoire
Puppets in Catania, Naples, Palermo, Brussels and Liège
The subjects of puppet theatre nearly always trace the plots of shows performed by actors. Thus, it can be reasonably supposed that chivalric subjects have been included in the puppet repertoire since the XVI century, if not earlier, alternating with other topics. However, some peculiarities of the Opera dei pupi – e.g. the prevalence of chivalrous subjects within a fixed repertoire, the metal armour that makes puppets bright and thunderous, the mechanisms suited to perform sword fights - seem to appear in the central-South of Italy and in Sicily only in the first decades of the XIX century. When it is said that the Opera dei pupi originated in the XIX century it is thus evident the reference to this set of transformations.
The puppets of Southern Italy, named pupi, and those from Belgium and Northern France, known as à tringle (that is to say rod puppets), present many mechanical similarities. In all of them, for example, the puppeteer directly transmits immediate and energetic movements to the marionette through very firm moves. However, they also present some differences:
- Pupi from Palermo: 80 cm in height, jointed knees, rod that runs through the head and hooks in the trunk, rod that moves the right arm, string that moves the left arm. They are moved from the sides of the stage.
- Pupi from Catania: 120 cm in height, stiff knees, rod that runs through the head and hooks in the trunk, rod that moves the right arm, string that moves the left arm. They are moved from the top of a bridge behind the backdrop.
- Pupi from Naples: 1 m in height, jointed knees, rod that runs through the head and hooks in the trunk, string that moves the left and the right arms. They are moved from the top in a bridge behind the backdrop.
- Pupi from Brussels 80 cm in height, stiff knees, rod that runs through the head and hooks in the trunk, string that moves the left and the right arms. They are moved from the sides of the stage.
- Pupi from Liège: 80 cm in height, jointed knees, unique rod hooked in a ring on top of the head, without any other control device. They are moved from the back of backdrop.
Puppets from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Burma
In the East, several traditions of epic, comic theatre and variétè using different animation techniques have flourished. In Asia puppet theatre is considered as a magical-religious rite, or better, its relation with religious practices is still clearly evident. Shadow puppet theatre, as well as other kinds of puppet traditions, was brought from central Asia to the Middle and Near East by Turkish people or reached the Arab countries from India or Indonesia, spreading through the Ottoman empire. While marionettes and hand puppets are not used in this area anymore, shadow puppets still exist in Turkey, Greece and Tunisia.
India is the most important centre from where several theatrical forms of puppetry spread, such as string, hand and shadow puppets. Shadow puppet art, maybe the oldest one, was performed in courts and villages and spread to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. In these countries it absorbed some aspects of local cultures, but kept the ancient Indian epic repertoire: actually, the Ramayana and Mahabharata are the most performed subjects of puppet theatre but not the only ones.
In Java and Thailand, in addition to shadows, puppets manipulated from the bottom with different techniques are used, while in Burma a string puppet tradition has flourished.
In other kinds of traditions, such as those of Rajastan (India) and Vietnam, the plots play a secondary role and the attention is focused on the vast range of surprising effects and scenic tricks. As regards the marionette tradition, in Rajastan there is one of the most vital one while in Vietnam puppets are manipulated on water, with a technique which is unique in the world.
In China different fine forms of shadow, string, rod and hand puppets are thriving. Evidence of the existence of Chinese shadow puppetry goes back to the Song dynasty, which reigned from 970 till 1279 A.D.
Chinese shadow and hand puppets
China is known to have a great shadow, string and hand puppet tradition.
The figures used in shadow puppetry are made out of coloured parchment and have articulated limbs. The screen, 40X70 cm, is supported by a frame finely carved in wood, behind which there are the operators and a small orchestra. The shadow shows used to be mainly addressed to women, who were not allowed to attend theatrical shows with actors.
In ancient times, the subjects were stemmed from history or inspired by Buddhism, but after the XVII century they also included sentimental, detective, magical, chivalrous, mythological stories and subjects stemmed from popular novels and farces. Since the shadow puppet shows were mainly addressed to women, they usually expressed their point of view as regards women oppression, or they presented heroines who were able to perform male roles.
Marionettes and hand puppet theatres present different levels, that are carved and gold-plated like small temples.
Hand puppets are from 30 to 40 cm high and they have cloth legs and wooden feet. Their head is carved out of wood and is refined with replaceable wigs. Silk and brocade clothes are finely embroided. The movement of Chinese puppets is not as rough and brutal as the one of European puppets, but it is refined with elegant and graceful effects.
Hun Krabok from Thailand
Thai puppets, called Hun Krabok, are manipulated in view by dancers: two of them manipulate the legs by holding the puppet's feet, another one animates the head by inserting a hand in the puppets body; the hands and arms are manipulated by means of two metal sticks that, through pulleys, allow the movement of the puppets wrists. The main subject of Hun Krabok shows is the story of Rama. As in Indonesia all theatrical forms derive from shadow puppet theatre, in Thailand puppetry – in particular the movements and figurative aspect of the figures – imitates a traditional form of dance drama, called Khon, where puppeteers usually dance as well.
Mua roi nuoc, Vietnamese water puppets
Water puppets, that are unique in the world for their manipulation technique, are wooden polychrome sculptures and they are about 40 cm. high. Their name, Mua roi nuoc, means "puppets dancing on water" . In fact, the body comes out of water being held up by a submerged support that keeps it in balance. It is connected to a bamboo can three meters long that, alone or with the help of other rods and strings, allows the manipulation of the puppets and enables refined and accurate movements of the head and arms. Illusory tricks are kept secret because of the competition among companies. Water reflects the puppets as well as the surrounding landscape and is the main element of these open-air shows, which are performed in a pond. The scenery is composed of three bamboo huts: the greater one, in the middle, has the floor below the waterline and hides the puppeteers whose lower body is in the water. Speakers and singers are close to the puppeteers, while musicians of the drum, gong and flute orchestra who musically accompany the action, are located in the side buildings. The repertoire includes about two hundred traditional scenes, which are freely combined in each performance. Teu, a divine jester represented as a cheerful and half-naked young man, opens the show with fireworks and the presentation of the flags. He comments on the events of the day and teases the audience. Then, everyday life inspires the scenes performed, such as fishing, the work of the paddy. Sometimes these scenes make a narrative sequence within a historical drama.
Yoke thai thabin, Burmese marionettes
Burmese puppet theatre, called yoke thay thabin, was created for the court and to spread ideological and religious ideas. This theatrical form was highly regarded by the court and for this reason the people started to imitate it so that this kind of shows became the more and more performed on the occasion of festivals, attended during the year by the Burmese people. The performances taught the ethical and moral foundations of Burmese society. After the conquest of Southern Burma by the British, puppet theatre played a key role as a carrier of patriotic values, but gradually it kept on losing importance. Today it remains but a pale evidence of it and the regime's efforts have failed to restore its original value. There are only a few companies of puppeteers in the Country.
The opportunities to perform puppet shows were numerous: birth, entrance of boys to puberty, ear piercing for girls, weddings, divorces and burials. In the old days, the shows started at seven in the evening with the orchestra's ouverture; the puppet show followed about an hour later, and lasted until dawn. Performances are divided into two acts. The first one symbolizes the creation of the world through a series of beginnings and disasters, and presents animals, spirits and the origin of royal dynasties. The second one told the Jataka stories, that is the tales of the five hundred and fifty previous lives of Buddha. Among them, Rama plays a relevant role together with the adventures of other epic heroes, all of them considered as incarnations of god. The show is a ceremony dedicated to Nats worship, which are spirits. Puppets have heads and arms carved out of wood and are manipulated from above with strings by puppeteers who are behind the backdrop. The court is on one side of the stage while on the opposite side outdoor scenes are performed and some props indicate the jungle.
The Burmese orchestra
The orchestra, called hsaing waing, is very important in the yoke thai thabin and contains a circle of drums; a circle of gongs; a big drum called pat-ma, which hangs from the belly of a big dragon; an instrument of the oboe family; a bell; two bamboo resonators and two singers. The body of pat-ma resembles the fantastic creature pyinsayupa, which has the characteristic of five different animals: elephant trunk and tusks, deer antlers and paws, snake body, bird wings and fish tail. The figure can be very big and defines the Burmese orchestra trim. The orchestra would start to play about an hour before the puppet show, with the big drum sound; then a series of melodies followed. The ouverture symbolizes the creation and destruction of the world in regular cycles. Men faults are the cause of the destruction of the world, which can be provoked by three "incurable" wounds:
- greed: this is the lesser of two evils. The world wounded by greed is destroyed by fire.
- hatred: this is more dangerous than greed. The world ruled by hatred is destroyed by a terrible deluge
– wrath: this is the most serious of faults. The world, in this case, is wiped out by a destroying wind.
Destruction and creation are symbolized by the harpsichord, gongs and big drums percussion, which represent the various elements destroying the world. Depending on the wound that causes the destruction, these instruments are beaten 56 times (fire), 7 times (water) and 1 time (wind). The end of the ouverture is the time when the world is completely destroyed and a new world one is created.
Animated figures in Turkey, Greece, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia
Comic shadow puppetry in the Middle East
Karagöz e Karaghiozis, Turkish and Greek shadows.
Turkish and Greek shadow puppets are made out of parchment and therefore, by transillumination, they appear coloured behind the screen. Sometimes they are made out of a poorer material, cardboard, and then appear opaque. Puppeteers put them near the screen and handle them by manipulating some wooden sticks, which are inserted in the holes of the puppet. Greek and Turkish shadow puppets have a common origin and are particularly similar. Because of some common aspects, they also remind the shadow puppetry of Northern Africa.
At the beginning of the 20th century, some bilingual companies based in Constantinople were used to visit some Greek cities and went to the popular areas of cities and villages twice or thrice a year. They would perform during the harvest time or on the occasion of public and private celebrations, such as marriages or engagements. The puppeteer, known as hayalci in Turkey, was considered as "a master", "a soul healer". By the way, cinema has has provoke a crisis of this form of theatre and today only a few companies there exist.
Karagöz, the Turkish shadow puppet show is composed of a series of independent scenes that can be associated at will, according to a pattern which includes a prologue, a dialogue, an interlude, a plot and a finale. The protagonist, Karagöz (black eye), who names the show, has the beard and is violent, rebel, gross and obscene as Pulcinella. His friend Hacivad is wise, prudent, refined and conformist. There are other characters representing in a satirical way the different ethnicities, types and professions of the Ottoman Empire.
Karaghiozis, the Greek shadow show, is less licentious than the Turkish one and emphasizes the social protest along with nationalism. The protagonist Karaghiozis, who names the show, is Greek and he does not have beard. He has a big nose, he is small, hunchbacked, poor, hungry and he has positive feature. Hatziavatis is a friend of his. Karaghiozis' rich antagonists have negative features and most of them are Turkish: the pasha, the vizier and his daughter. During the Second World War, Hitler and the German soldiers, Mussolini and the Italian Bersaglieri (members of rifle regiment in Italian army) became Karaghiozis' enemies, too.
Shadow's show in India
The biggest Indian shadows are those of Andhra Pradesh, which are called tholu bomalatta. They are translucent figures, pierced and coloured, made out of goatskin's parchment and measuring approximately one meter. The limbs and head are articulated. The figure is supported through a cane stick which is manipulated by the puppeteer from below. Then he animates the limbs and head with his hands. The stationary characters on stage are fixed to the screen with palm thorns. The show is always performed outdoors.
In Karnataka the shadow puppets, called togalu gombai atta, are smaller.
In Mysore, the shadow puppets are called togalu bombe. They are not articulated and they move thanks to the dance of their manipulators.
In ancient times, in India, the shadow puppet theatre was performed in courts, but it has been practiced by touring companies for a long time. Puppeteers, called sutradhara, go from one village to another one together with their families and are considered as celebrators of a minor cult. They ask the chief of the village for permission to perform. When they get it, they raise the screen where the shadows will be projected and enclose the space behind the screen with fabrics. While setting up the scene, women go and sing to the village houses. The audience, attracted by the music, also come from the nearby villages. The whole family of the sutradhara takes part in the performance that lasts the whole night. They help in the manipulation, play or sing.
Malaysian, Cambodian and Thai shadows
The so called Wayang Kulit spread from Java to Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, where it has acquired a figurative style with specific characteristics, analogous to those of local figurative arts. Shadow puppetry is distinguished in two types: the Javanese Wayang and the Siam Wayang. The first one had an aristocratic disposition and has extinguished, while the second one, addressed to the people, is still widespread. The structure of the figures representing the different characters is similar to those of Java and Bali.
Malaysian shadow puppets, called Wayang Gedeck, can be made out of leather, be opaque and appear dark on the screen; or they can be translucent and appear colourful. Large Cambodian shadow puppets are known as "Nang Robam", while the small ones are called "Nang Sbek" or "Nang Ayang". The latter are opaque and they are often not articulated even if one or both arms may be articulated. The Thai shadow puppets called Nang Talung are either small and opaque or translucent and may be both articulated or not. Instead, the Nang Yai shadow puppets are large sized, opaque and not articulated.
Kathputli, marionettes from Rajasthan
Puppet theatre of Rajasthan, called Kathpuli, celebrates a legendary hero referring of a real historical event even if it actually focuses on entertainment and consists in a series of numbers. These are framed into a story telling the conflict between Hinduism and Islam: the murder of the Rajput hero Amar Singh Rathore who had been unfairly murdered by the Muslim Great Mogul for being faithful to his religion, Hinduism, and the revenge of his relatives who plot a massacre of Muslim princes. During the puppet show, this story is actually marginal, while a great part of the performance focuses on the different forms of entertainment which take place before the massacre in a big party held at court.
The courtiers are lined up near the backdrop behind some arches supported by thin pillars that surround the apron. The Emperor is at the centre, flanked by the princes of Rajasthan on one side and the Muslim lords on the other one. Among the courtiers, dancers, jugglers, acrobats on horseback, snake charmers, perform. The Kathputli puppets have a simple and effective mechanism: they are manipulated by means of two strings, one of which goes from the head to the waist of the marionette, and the other one from one hand to the other. The head and trunk are sculpted out of wood, the arms are padded with raffia and therefore they have an elastic mobility. The lower part of the body is covered by a tunic and its fluid movements make think that legs are present, even if they aren't. During the performance of the numbersa lot of secret tricks provoke a sense of surprise.
One of the two manipulators gives the voice to all the characters using a tool, called "Boli", that distorts the voice as Pulcinella's pivetta (that is, a small reed with a grinding sound) and makes his words incomprehensible. The main puppeteer's wife sits outside of the theatre and plays drums, sings, talks to marionettes and explains what is happening.
Wayang kulit, wayang klitik and wayang golek: shadow and rod puppets from Java and Bali
In each town the figurative style of shadow puppets has its own characteristics, similar to those of local arts. However, the structure of the characters' figures are similar. Indonesia's are much smaller than India's; they are held through a central stick, while a second one is used to handle their right arm. The left arm, head and legs are motionless. The impression of the movement is given by the deformations of the shadow due to its the inclination with regard to the screen.
There are different kinds of figures which are all manipulated from the bottom by means of rods:
* wayang kulit: they are made from patterned buffalo hide, the design being chiselled out of the leather and then the whole figure painted and gilded. They appear as black shadows and only spectators who sit behind the screen can see their intense colours;
* wayang klitik : they are flat, wooden rod puppets with leather arms, figuratively similar to the previous ones. These figures are carved in low relief and exquisitely painted. They are used in the central region of Java Island and represent, just for entertainment, unholy stories, such as the story of Damar Wulan;
* wayang golek : they are three-dimensional puppets in chiselled and painted wooden. Due to the fact that they can be handled from the bottom, they could be called marottes (the European term). These figures wear long skirts in batik which cover the dalang's forearm. His hand holds a rod, which, going through the figure's body, controls the figure's head. These marionettes are used in the central region and in the western region of Java.
In this case, the dalang – that is, the manipulator – does not hide himself, always being on stage. It is thought that the golek were invented by a Muslim king at the end of the 16th century in the central regions of Java Island.
Do: marionettes from Mali
Puppet theatre of the Bambara from Mali is known as do and was the first African puppet tradition to have been discovered by the Europeans at the end of the 19th century. These puppets often dance without speaking and when they do, the use of an instrument distorting their voice make a translation necessary for the audience. In its most ancient form, the performance materializes the spiritual beings presiding over destinies of the community, protecting fetish, with the aim of making agriculture, hunting and fishing successful and make peace reign in the village.
They are manipulated from the bottom by means of rods in an ever-changing theatre, called kalak. This is equipped with a particular structure, which supports a curtain. Sometimes, especially among the Marka, puppets have brass decorations. They are kept in a hut, whose admission is forbidden to women and children.
Sometimes, companies perform act on a boat, whereas spectators can attend the show from the bank.
Kebe-kebe: marionettes from Congo
Among the various kinds of puppets existing in Congo, there are the kebe-kebe which are used by the Mbochi and Kuyu groups. They celebrates great people lived in the past and are manipulated from the bottom by means of sticks. The puppeteer is hidden under a cloak and holds the figure above his own head.
Gledé: the Yorubà's mask- puppets
In Ketù, near the border between Nigeria and Benin, the Yorubà use mask-puppets, known as gledè, with propitiatory functions. They appear in rituals which take place at the end of the season of rains and at the beginning of the dry season. They are carried on the puppeteer's head, appearing above the crowd, and are manipulated from the bottom by means of strings their dance. The movements of the mask-puppets' as well as that of puppeteers-dancers combine in a unique action.