© Musei Civici d’Arte Antica Bologna

Name of Object:

Puppet theatre


Bologna, Italy

Holding Museum:

Museo di Arte Industriale e Galleria Davia Bargellini


Theatre: c. 1770; marionettes: c. 1750


Theatre: unknown artist from Romagna; marionettes: Veneto

Period of activity:

Second half eighteenth-century

Museum Inventory Number:

inv n.701 (proscenium); inv. n.1551 (backdrop); invv. nn.1554, 1555. 1559, 1560 (two pairs of wings)

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Proscenium: painted wood; backdrops and wings: tempera on canvas; marionettes: wood, lead, stucco, wax, stuffed canvas, papier maché for the bodies, different materials and trimmings for the clothes

Place of production:

Theatre: Romagna; marionettes: Veneto


Proscenium 154 x 224 cm; backdrop 82 x 172 cm; wings 81,5 x 25-34,5 cm; marionettes: height varying from c. 23 to 50 cm

Workshop / Movement:

Bibiena school


Theatre: Forlì; marionettes: Veneto


During the third quarter of the eighteenth-century the Albicini family from Forlì commissioned this marionette theatre. The coat of arms of the Albicinis' is on the proscenium. The present backdrop and wings show a “magnificent atrium” painted by an artist influenced by the scenography culture of the Bibienas, especially that of Antonio Galli, who was working at that time in Forlì. The backdrop, with its three vanishing points, applies three corner perspective conveying the idea of a space extending behind the visible scene. The theatre has 5 more backdrops and seven pairs of wings, some of which were painted in the nineteenth-century.
Only some of the marionettes are exhibited; altogether there are 74 male and female figures (some of them are characters from the Commedia dell'Arte), 9 horses and 1 monkey. All of the figures were made in the Veneto. The oldest figures are dated to 1750 ca., so they are older than the theatre of which they are part. The others were made in the eighteenth-century. Even if not produced by the same workshop all the marionettes are characterised by similar technical devices including a movable mouth and jointed limbs which moved with a control bar. Some of these marionettes change into something else, a trick widely appreciated at the time (ladies become dwarves and dwarves become giants).
Puppet theatres were very fashionable in Venice where they were used to represent plays from the Commedia dell'Arte and even by comediographer Carlo Goldoni. They were mostly present in noble residences. During the eighteenth-century this habit spread in the north of the country, unfortunately only few survive and we lack information on their use.

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Current Owner:

Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (deposit)

Original Owner:

Eighteenth-century: Albicini family (Forlì); beginning twentieth-century: Raffaele De Courten (Florence)

How date and origin were established:

Stylistic reasons.

How Object was obtained:

Purchased by the Italian Ministry of Instruction from the Venetian antique dealer Dino Barozzi in 1921. It was originally sent to the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna as an example of Bibienesque art. In 1930 it was moved to the Museo di Arte Industriale e Galleria Davia Bargellini.

Selected bibliography:

Ghirardi, A. in L'arte del Settecento. Architettura, Scenografia, Pittura di paesaggio (exhibition catalogue) (ed. A. M. Matteucci), Bologna, 1980, n. 192, pp.132-133.
Lenzi, D. and Melloni, R., in Museo Civico d'Arte Industriale e Galleria Davia Bargellini (ed. R. Grandi), Bologna, 1987, pp. 174-180.
Adani, G., “Lo strumentario domestico”, Atlante dei beni culturali dell'Emilia Romagna, I. I Beni Artistici. I Beni degli artigianati storici (eds. J. Bentini and G. Adani), Milano, 1993, p. 208, fig. 34.
Tumidei, S. in I Bibiena una famiglia europea  (exhibition catalogue) (eds. D. Lenzi and J. Bentini), Venice, 2000, n. 91, pp. 344-345.

Citation of this web page:

Silvia  Battistini "Puppet theatre" in Discover Baroque Art , Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.museumwnf.org/thematicgallery/thg_galleries/database_item.php?itemId=objects;BAR;it;Mus12;47;en&id=theatre

Prepared by: Silvia BattistiniSilvia Battistini

SURNAME: Battistini
NAME: Silvia

AFFILIATION Musei Civici d'Arte Antica di Bologna (Comune di Bologna)

TITLE Curator Museo Davia Bargellini (Musei Civici d'Arte Antica)


Graduated and specialized in History of Art at the University of Bologna. She is a specialist of medieval illuminating and of Nineteenth-century Bolognese painting. She is presently the curator of Museo Davia Bargellini, one of the Musei Civici d’Arte Antica.

Translation by: Antonella MampieriAntonella Mampieri

SURNAME: Mampieri
NAME: Antonella

AFFILIATION: Musei Civici d’Arte Antica, Bologna

TITLE: Art Hitorian

Graduated and specialised at the University of Bologna. She is a specialist in Bolognese late Baroque art, namely sculpture. Among other subjects she has been studying nineteenth-century funerary art in the Bologna monumental cemetery, la Certosa.

Translation copyedited by: Lisa Kelman

MWNF Working Number: IT2 52