'The Czech Puppet' exhibition opens at Prague Castle

The Czech Puppet

If you have children and will be in Prague some time between now and January, there's an exhibition you shouldn't miss. It's called "The Czech Puppet" and opened at the Imperial Stables at Prague Castle on Friday. It celebrates the rich Czech puppet-making tradition. Alena Skodova went to the opening ceremony and has this report:

This music is loved by three generations of Czech children. It comes from the delightful puppet film "Spalicek" by Jiri Trnka. Films like this are known far beyond the Czech Republic's borders and over the years have won an affectionate international audience, retelling folk legends with marionettes and music.

The exhibition is divided into four parts: the first one shows the oldest puppets - marionettes on strings - used by travelling puppeteers some 200 years ago. Whole families used to be involved and the texts of the plays were passed on from generation to generation - the puppeteers knew them by heart and the texts changed with each generation - although they sometimes even had Shakespeare's plays as their starting point. The second part features the tradition of what is known as 'family puppet theatre' - it's puppets from 18 to 40 centimetres high, used for small table puppet theatres with paper decorations that people used to have at home. They were highly popular at the beginning of the 20th century. The third part of the exhibition presents puppet theatre from before WWII, when shows were staged by amateur puppeteers, but were professional in that the puppets were made by well-known artists. And finally comes the post-war period up to the present day.

Pavel Jirasek, the exhibition's curator showed me the oldest puppets on display:

"They are here, in a beautiful golden frame, in the Baroque tradition - the oldest puppets known to us today. It's a princess and a prince. They were carved by either the grandfather or father of Matej Kopecky, a well-known 18th century Czech puppeteer, and we know for sure that Kopecky himself used them for his performances. That means that they must be some 220 or even 250 years old."

At the exhibition I could see puppets of different styles, materials and sizes, but also a great variety of figures they represent, including animals and all kinds of fairy-tale characters. I could not resist asking Mr. Jirasek if there were some characters unique to Czech puppet theatre?

"Yes, there are, but not among the oldest puppets, because back then puppet theatre in Europe was universal - everywhere the same shows were performed. But at the turn of the 19th century, a Czech version of the devil appeared: a distinguished one, in elegant clothes, who was called Mefistafl, and then all those wild Lucifers with very big horns. Then came the Czech water-sprite and the Kasparek, whose origins go back to Asia a thousand years ago. But the Czech Kasparek - a kind of a clown - was not bad, he was a bit foxy, but children have always loved him for his fun-making."

The exhibition, which is set to become a big attraction for families this Christmas, presents some 450 puppets. To allow children to touch their beloved characters and make a puppet for themselves, an accompanying programme will be organized, where children can learn more about Czech puppet theatre and win free tickets for several shows.