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Stanley Marcus:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Sicilian Marionettes Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Marcus, Stanley, 1905-2002
Title: Stanley Marcus Sicilian Marionettes Collection
Dates: circa 1850-circa 1960
Extent: 60 marionettes, 1 rolled item
Abstract: The Stanley Marcus Sicilian Marionettes, circa 1850-circa 1960, consists of sixty marionettes and a backdrop curtain. The marionettes form a troupe of characters from the Orlando Furioso story cycle.
Call Number: Performing Arts Collection PA-00056
Language: English
Access: Open for research. An advance appointment is required to view the puppets in the Reading Room.



Acquisition: Gift and purchase, 1965, 1992
Processed by: Carolyn Roark and Helen Adair, 2001, 2005, 2010
Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


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, circa 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, a 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. The size of the marionette denotes rank: primary characters stand four to five feet in height, secondary characters, about three feet. The armor on warriors can weigh up to forty pounds. Each marionette is stored hanging vertically from its rod.

Related material is also present in the Ransom Center’s Puppetry Collection, Joel Sherzer Collection, and University of Texas Extension Library Collection.