“They say that you don’t have to choose the puppet, the puppet will choose you.’’ Do you know that the ‘Czech Marionettes’ are among the best and Czech puppeteers remain world leaders to this day?
Apart from the puppets or ‘kathputlis’ of Rajasthan in India, where else can one be mesmerized with brightly painted expressve faces, suspended from a wooden rack, and staring right into your face? I have not seen anything better than in Prague! Czech puppetry is one of its kind. It is a traditional art and has been embraced by the Czech National Revival movement. It is also a part of their national and social fabric. And when you are in Prague, you must visit the National Marionette Theatre. My trip there in 2019 was full of such revelations and more. I could not book a workshop but had a chance to talk to a couple of marionette shop owners to know more about the artistry and skills. No doubt, it was an experience that I will cherish forever. Join me on this virtual ride.
“I was thrilled to see a Pinocchio in Prague.” And then I learned that Punch and Pinocchio were classic characters of marionettes in Czech.
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What is a Marionette? What is unique about them?
Marionette is a kind of a puppet which is animated by using wires or strings. Puppets can be other kinds too, like glove puppets or rod puppets but marionettes will be hanging over strings. Another definition says, Marionette are full length figurines manipulated from above by strings or threads attached to a control. We do have puppets in India but trust me, the Czech marionettes are no less. They are very attarctive, full of live and exemplary piece of art. They come in many characters, ranging from devils, witches to wizards, clowns, cartoons, kings, princesses and even the Czech popular characters.
A marionette’s puppeteer is called a marionettist.
Prague is a city adorned with romancitism. Charles Bridge and Vltava (Moldau) river are magical. The city is full of Bohemian history. It pampers travellers with amazing Trdelník (chimney cakes) and Goulash (soup). And of the things, it also wins your heart with it lovely hand-made caricatures, hanging in the marionette shops. These kilfully hand-carved marionettes from linden wood are oil painted later. They are chiseled delicately. They are made such that they last for a long time. The figurines stand out in character. They are loveable.
Czech puppet theatre and its legacy
Puppetry and elements of puppet theatre has been part of Bohemian history. Just like India, these puppeteers travelled through the Bohemian countryside, and performed at the country fairs. These puppet shows were the first theatre and local interaction with the people in rural areas. Stories were exchanged and history was kept intatc. Also, the theatrics were were performed in local language. Thus this art has been a protector of Czech language and culture.
The Prague-based National Marionette Theatre is special, built in an old space. I am sure the history lovers would enjoy the walk through it. If you wish to know more, do check out their website. And in future, dont miss their workshops and shows. The repertory there includes some of the world-famous pieces: Don Giovanni , The Magic Flute or The Magic Theatre of the Baroque World – Orfeo ed Euridice.
Czech Marionettes make great souveniers from Prague!
Can there be anything else? These meticulously chiseled marionettes makes for much-valued gift for adults as well as the children.
I spent 3 days in Prague and it was magical. I missed the chance of meeting the men and women who pull the strings in Czech puppetry but there were many shops which left me spellbound with the antique, historic and museum standard collectibles in the form of marionettes. It was evident that Prague not only celebrates the artistry of puppet making with great zeal but also takes pride in its artists who have held on to the rich legacy.
Do tell me more about these marionettes if you have them or you loved them on your Prague visit!