||The entrepreneur Stanley Marcus (1905-2002) was president of the Neiman Marcus retail
department store chain from 1950 to 1975. He was also an avid art collector and
patron of the arts in the Dallas area. The Stanley Marcus Sicilian Marionettes,
1850-circa 1960, consists of sixty marionettes and a backdrop curtain. The
marionettes, which were purchased by Marcus in 1960, form a troupe of characters
from the Orlando Furioso story cycle. They are arranged
into three groups: Christians, pagans, and animals. Among the characters represented
are Charlemagne, Orlando, various Frankish knights, Moors, princesses and other
female characters, horses, demons, dogs, and mythical creatures. Completing the
collection is a mid-nineteenth century backdrop curtain for a Sicilian marionette
theater, purchased separately.
||The marionette tradition in Sicily began in the 1850s when Sicilian wood carvers were
inspired by Italian versions of Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem Orlando Furioso, a legend that emerged (with vast embellishment) from
the eighth century life of Roland, one of Charlemagne’s knights. These plays
emphasized chivalry and swashbuckling adventure, and dramatized the conflict between
Christianity and Islam. In the marionette theaters of Sicily, the stories became
standardized and were a highly popular entertainment until displaced by television,
film, and other mass media. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the
tradition of these marionettes was revived with performances in Sicily, and even
television was used as a means of continuing this popular tradition.
||The marionettes are operated with a wooden-handled metal rod extending from the crown
of the head on human figures, and from the center of the back on animal figures,
technique that dates to the Roman Empire. A second rod moves the primary arm (the
sword hand for warriors), and a string moves the secondary arm. The jointed legs
move freely, and are controlled by manipulating the body through the main rod.
size of the marionette denotes rank: primary characters stand four to five feet
height, secondary characters, about three feet. The armor on warriors can weigh
to forty pounds. Each marionette is stored hanging vertically from its rod.