New year marionettes

07:03 usefulbox 0 Comments

Well we are back from Prague and really had a lovely time.  It was snowing which lent a certain romance to the old old buildings.  I don't think that I will ever be able to comprehend that some places I visit in Europe are older than white civilisation in Australia!  We always bang on about our minuscule 200+ year history and yet there are things my eyes are seeing that are 800+ years old!

I could go on and on about Prague & all the wonderful things we saw, heard & ate.  However this isn't a travel blog but one about craft.

The Czech republic is certainly known for it's glass.  Glass vases, glass plates, glass figurines & glass beads.  But there is something else that caught my eye.

Marionettes. Beautifully crafted, perfectly dressed marionettes.

The Wikipedia definition is: A marionette is puppet controlled from above using wires, formerly strings but dropped due to increased durability of wires; a marionette's puppeteer is called a manipulator. Marionettes are operated with the puppeteer hidden or revealed to an audience by using a vertical or horizontal control bar in different forms of theatres or entertainment venues.

Marionettes are sometimes referred to as "puppets", but the term "marionettes" is more apt as the other forms of puppetry are finger, glove, rod and shadow puppetry.

Puppetry is such an ancient form of performance with some historians claiming that they pre-date actors in theatre. Those crazy Egyptians used them as early as 2000 BC. And the Greeks translate the word puppet from 'neurospasta', which means "string-pulling", using nervus, meaning tendon, muscle, string, or wire, and span, to pull.

However, the Roman puppetry influence was so great that Italy is considered to be the early home of marionettes where they began their use in churches to act out morality plays and then more and more in theatres or in the town square on the back of donkey carts.

The early 20th century saw the prominence of marionettes across the UK and particularly in Salzberg with the foundation of the Salzburg Marionette Theatre in 1913.  There is even a modern day, Marionette Theatre of Australia.

Marionettes have also been popular in films.  'Being John Malovich' is a film that sticks in my mind.  And no, that's not just because John Cusack is in it!  Then we also cannot forget the Thunderbirds!

And why did Prague conjure up this fascination with marionettes for me.  Well, there are lots of them....everywhere.  They can be pretty & colourful or slightly morbid or gothic.  I like their exaggerated faces & their wobbly arms.  One shop keeper was demonstrating their ability, making the little jester marionette dance to JT's Sexy back!

Also the Czech rod marionettes a little more complex than other European varieties. They are hand carved, usually using lime wood with central rod & have strings for the arms and legs. The more intricate ones also use string to control a mouth or movable ears & therefore require skilled manipulation. For the more professional puppeteer some Czech marionettes have no central rod and strings that are attached to the head, shoulders and back. Very tricky!

So all in all, I have a new appreciation of marionettes (even the scary ones) & their skilled craftspeople.  I wish I was able to see one being carved but something tells me that is kept away from the tourists.


Photos by L Adams