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  • Writer's pictureFrancisco Teles da Gama, MA

A Brief History of the Museu da Marioneta in Lisbon

What is the Museu da Marioneta?

The Museu da Marioneta is a museum in Lisbon that opened in 1987 and is dedicated to the history of puppetry.

Museu da Marioneta

moi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Museu da Marioneta History

The tradition of Portuguese puppet shows dates back hundreds of years. The first primitive shows involved puppets called bonifrates (derived from the Latin for ‘good brother’), since those representing saints were strongly associated with the itinerant monks who would travel between monasteries, teaching throughout Europe. Writers such as the 16th-century monk Gaspar da Cruz attest to the fact that the Chinese performed shows with bonifrates, and for this reason experts have hypothesised that the Portuguese first brought back puppets from their lengthy and perilous voyages to Asia. Over the centuries, the popularity of puppet shows dramatically increased, as did the number of terms associated with the tradition, to include the new usages marioneta and fantoche. The craft has been handed down through generations, and today there are national and international puppet festivals held across the country.

In 1987, the first museum dedicated to the craft of puppetry was established in Lisbon, founded by a travelling theatre company. However, due to lack of funding, the municipal authority reached an agreement with the original owners of the collection. The Puppet Museum was thus relocated here in 2001, to the Convento das Bernardas, a small 17th-century former nunnery.

Passing through the front door transports you into the intriguing history of puppetry. Depending on the time of year, the museum’s programme will include puppet shows and a festival alongside the permanent and temporary exhibitions. You’ll learn about the oldest traditions of mask and puppet theatre, the puppeteers from the north who brought both glove- and string-puppet theatre to the whole country, and the plays staged by great visiting companies from the United Kingdom that first brought Shakespeare's The Tempest to Portugal. The original collection has been expanded over the years to include other practices and places that were not previously represented. For example, you can now admire masks and puppets from Asia, South America, and Africa – notably the brilliant colours and technique that make the Sogobó mask from Mali stand out.

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