The bizarre Tyrolean Skull Puppets (1850 – 1945)

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The unique Skull Puppets made in Val Gardena, South Tyrol.


These heads were handcrafted in series from the first half of the 19th century until the Second World War. They were produced by a few families of sculptors from Val Gardena, South Tyrol, who specialized in these subjects. The heads were then bought by a client who then resold them to street vendors who filled their panniers with these heads and other wooden artifacts produced in the area, such as toys, crockery, and bowls. These skulls are found in collections in various parts of Europe.

These heads were mostly small in size. Sometimes they were decorated and attached to a body (not produced in Val Gardena) to be used as puppets.

The heads produced in larger sizes were used by professional puppeteers and marionette makers. The heads, after being brushed white, were painted with tempera and took on a semi-glossy appearance with the subsequent addition of egg white.

The subjects of the heads were also differentiated according to cultural areas (Fagiolino, Sandrone, Gioppino: for northern Italy; Guignol and Gnafron| for France; Punk and Judy for England, Kasperl for Germany and Eastern European countries), while the masks of the Commedia Dell’Arte (Arlecchino, Brighella, Dottore, Capitano, Pantalone, etc.), were distributed throughout Europe.

In Italy they can be found in the following public collections: Museo Teatrale alla Scala, Scuola Paolo Grassi, Museo Faraggiana in Novara, the Castello dei Burattini in Parma, Collezione Forlai del Comune di Forlì, and in numerous private collections, the most important of which is the Collezione Mercuriali in Cesenatico.




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