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Sicilian Puppet’s History

Categories - Tradition




   Last week in the restaurant of  my friend, I presented to a tourist from United kingdom, one of my favourite lava stone paintings named "Pupo Siciliano" . I was amazed at his question, " Who is it", or for better saying I didn't expect he hadn't had the faintest idea, at all. Obviously, he realized the painting represented an ancient soldier, but he didn't make sense about my happiness in presenting it to him. To be honest, this painting is really one of my favourite piece, because apart from its own beauty, most people in Sicily like it, as it strictly belongs to the ancient sicilian tradition. And so now, I'm aware I have to write something about the Sicilian Puppet History, and I hope to make it widely more popular through this page.



      Puppet Opera is a sort of puppet theatre that had got success in South Italy and above all in Sicily at the end of the Nineteenth century and the beginning of the Twentieth century. The puppets perform the heroic deeds of Charlemagne and his paladins. The whole repertoire is  mostly based on chivalric tales derived from Carolingian romances which were recounted by the "Cantastorie" (story-tellers)  throughout the squares in Sicily, long before. Each puppet represented a specific paladin distinguishable by armour and cloak; thus the audience could side with one or another. Quite often, two figures of puppets that could boast real fans dividing the audience were Orlando and Reginald, followed by Charlemagne, Angelic and the saracen Rodomonte and Agramante.









   In the Eighteenth century, the puppets were moved from the top by a fine iron rod linked to the head through an articulated joint and by some wires tying arms and legs. But it was in the Nineteenth century and only in Sicily that a talented person invented new ways to move them, thus trasforming the puppets into "Pupi" ( from latin "Pupus, namely "Child"). The iron rod was not linked to the head anymore, but instead inserted into the body, and above all, what was more, no wires were used but only one iron rod meant to move the right arm. This is the characteristic of the Pupo Siciliano. These new technical expedients allowed to get more accurate and faster movements, which were considered very important when imitating a duel or fighting. The Pupo, which has already acquired its peculiar operating structure, was soon enriched with shining armours vaguely recalling the Renaissance Style.


   There are two different traditions or "styles" in Sicily, about the Puppet Opera: the palermitano style ( in Palermo), which succeeded to establish itself in the Capital and in the western part of the island, and the catanese one ( in Catania) which conquered the city and broadly the eastern part of the island and Calabria also. The difference between these two traditions is due to the size and weight of the Pupi, the operating structure, and especially to a different theatrical conception and entertainment, which in Catania unlike Palermo established itself a broader chivalric repertoire. The catanesi Pupi are 130 cm. tall and they can weigh 35 kg., while the palermitani Pupi barely reach up to 80 cm tall. and weighing 5 kg . The catanesi Pupi have stiff legs, with no articulated joint at knee, and often holding the sword with right hand and out from the sheath; instead the Pupi in Palermo can articulate their knees and place the sword into the sheath. In Palermo the Pupi are being manipulated by puppeteers placed behind the scenes on the sides of the stage and on the same floor of the Pupi, while in Catania there is a bridge at the top and behind the backdrops from where the Pupi are driven.






   Nowadays, some puppeteers are still striving to keep alive the tradition by putting on some show for tourists and in other cases a complete theatrical review. Among the historical families of puppeteers we can count: Cuticchio, Argento, Mancuso and Greco in Palermo, Canino in Cinisi, Crimi, Trombetta and Napoli in Catania, Pennisi, Macrì and Grasso in Acireale, Profeta in Licata, Vaccaro-Mauceri in Siracusa. Recently, UNESCO recognized the " Opera dei Pupi"(Puppet Opera) Masterpiece World Heritage Site.




Here are few pictures of the working process of Pupi Siciliani:






avatar Rosario
Thanks Jenny! I'm pleased you have found something of interest to you...
avatar Jenny Maclennan
I love puppets and I'm writing a story about them.
Thank you for the information about Sicilian puppets
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