Eighteenth century Venetian marionettes at Casa Goldoni


This conservation campaign involves twenty marionettes - string operated puppets rather than hand puppets - part of a group bequeathed to the city of Venice, some of which come from one of the few documented aristocratic puppet theatres belonging to the Ca' Grimani in Cannaregio.

This is the first such project Venice in Peril has undertaken and we're delighted to become involved with such a fascinating aspect of Venetian culture.

Many of Italy's greatest actors learned their craft in Venetian repertory companies.  A much -loved theatrical genre was the marionette theatre, in which puppets, manipulated with astounding skill, acted every kind of drama, including opera, on miniature stages complete with expensive costumes and complicated scene changes. By the early 18th century the marionettes were so popular that several patrician families built special theatres for such performances.

Among those captivated by this world in miniature was the fabulously versatile and prolific Carlo Goldoni (1707-93),  His birth place, the medieval Palazzo Centanni, in S. Polo, is now a museum with an 18th century marionette theatre and displays of historic marionettes on display.

Conservation is also an opportunity to understand how the marionettes were made. Under their colourful costumes the puppets' torsos were simply carved wooden shapes (although some female characters were given a modelled décolletage) to which articulated legs were attached with the visible lower half more finely carved. Softer wadding was used for the arms and glass eyes and either cotton thread or real human hair was used for the heads. Sometimes the neck or jaw is hinged, so that expressions could be manipulated by twitching the strings.
To make the puppet ‘walk’ convincingly one leg was made shorter than the other and the feet and hands were moulded in lead to give a plausible weight to movement. The variety of costumes reflects the range of characters, with lots of detail, mixtures of fabric weights, coloured linings, ruffs, piping and embroidery. Conservation will involve repairs and careful cleaning as well as dyeing of matching textiles where necessary.

For more on Museo di Casa Goldoni

The cost of the conservation treatment is £10,000. You can donate to this project online and/or contact info@veniceperil.org 020 7736 6891

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