Rosario Perricone – Collectors’ Island

May 14, 2019 1:03 pm

The winter garden of the former Hotel de France, once Palermo’s most prestigious hotel, now houses the Antonio Pasqualino International Marionette Museum. It is the physical manifestation of a dream to preserve a form of theatre that has meant so much in Sicilian history: the Opera dei Pupi. Founded in 1975, the museum is now home to two thousand Sicilian marionettes, all mustered to attention like Charlemagne’s army. The legendary deeds of the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the intrigues and love stories of his court provide the inspiration for the theatre productions starring these masterpieces of puppetry.

Inside the museum, a small wooden theatre is the venue where history and tradition come to life. The puppeteers, or pupari, masters of this time-honored and entertaining Sicilian art, animate the marionettes with real, almost human gestures. They make sound effects by blowing into seashells, and stamp on the wooden floor or clap coconut shells together to simulate the arrival of enemy horsemen. The puppets brawl, argue or fall in love. They transmit their magic under the guidance of an exceptional stage (and museum) director, Rosario Perricone. Professor of cultural anthropology and museology at the Palermo Academy of Fine Arts, Rosario, in recent years, has helped to save these gigantic marionettes from oblivion, assembling a collection of immense cultural value in tandem with the Association for the Conservation of Popular Traditions, which was founded in 1965.

Each year the Genevan watchmaker Vacheron Constantin releases an art book titled Collectors’ Island, this year I photographed the entire book and this is one of ten stories included. Part two of this story, the puppet maker who works for the museum, can be found here.

Many thanks to Bradley Seymour for the invaluable creative direction, and to Lara Lo Calzo for her exceptional work as Editorial Manager. All text and captions written by Luca Bergamin.

Rosario Perricone, director of the Antonio Pasqualino International Marionette Museum. The museum bears the name of its founder, who dedicated his work to a form of theatre that seemed destined to disappear in the second half of the twentieth century.

Four Palermitan puppets: Viviano (1960s), two armed Spaniards (1960), and a Moorish soldier (1976).

From left to right: Angelo, Catanese puppet (1920s); Argante, Catanese puppet (1910); Orlando, Catanese puppet (1920); Charlemagne, Neapolitan puppet (1920).

These puppets were made by the artist Enrico Baj.

Theatre with traditional Neapolitan puppets of the 1920s.

Rosario Perricone backstage at the puppet theatre.

On the left: Angelica the Page, Palermitan marionette. On the right: Orlando, Palermitan marionette.

On the left: Greta Garbo, string marionette. On the right: Domatore, string marionette (1935).

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