Collezione Maria Signorelli





  Maria Signorelli     

Born on 17 November 1908, Maria Signorelli was the eldest of the three daughters of the Latvian writer (and doctor) Olga Resnevitch and Angelo Signorelli, who was one of the first Italian radiologists.

From her earliest years Maria was keenly receptive of the wealth of fascinating impressions provided by her family circle and by the literary and artistic salon that her father and, particularly, her mother (a devotee of the theatre and biographer of Eleonora Duse) held for many years in Rome, in their home.












The Puppets - "i fantocci" - by Maria Signorelli

Maria Signorelli's series of puppets known as the fantocci are amongst the most original creations of Italian - and indeed European - figurative art of the early 20th century.  

The director Anton Giulio Bragaglia, in March 1929 at his gallery in Rome, was the first to exhibit them; the following year Giorgio de Chirico presented them in Paris, whence they moved on to Berlin. 

It was the beginning of an international career. 


Puppets by Maria Signorelli  

Maria Signorelli’s puppets are of several hundred characters created from the 1940s to the 1990s for 159 different productions; for dance shows, for fairy tales, nursery rhymes and films for children, for plays with classical and modern texts, and film. They are difficult to define as regards  typology, because the artist constructed them according to their individual requirements, that is, the movement and function they had to have on stage......









The dance shows by Maria Signorelli  

"... the puppet ballets have become the most important and engaging part of my theatre, the one where I feel most free to reveal the two leading elements of my compositions, colour, and rhythm…" .....


   Maria Signorelli: I Fantocci 1920 - 1930

Si crea l'incanto

  La casa dei burattini     


 La Valigia dei Burattini   



The fairy tales, nursery rhymes and films. 


‘I came to the profession of puppeteer after many 

years as theatre  costume and set designer ... 

I chose the puppet, moved by the hand of man 

itself and not the marionette, operated by strings, 

because I found that it could better express the 

most intimate nuances of the character and

 because the puppeteer who gives it life can 

really do so, with the greatest abandon, 

with his whole soul.’..”




 Shows with classical and modern texts, films.



 ‘Theatre is performed in a great variety of styles. 

One must know in which style one wants to work 

and then find the appropriate techniques . 

raditional techniques or new techniques? 

Puppets or marottes, or shadow 

or rod puppets?’......

The main sections of the Maria Signorelli collection

Podrecca Fund  

(string puppets, sets, set designs,documentation)

The Fund belonged to the Compagnia dei Piccoli of Vittorio Podrecca (1883-1959), one of the legends of twentieth-century Italian theatre. Created in Rome on the eve of the First World War, from 1914 to 1966, therefore even after the death of its creator, this puppet company was famed in Italy and beyond for its great artistic talents and technical skills.... 

Trieste puppets, 

with relevant sets and stage properties of 

various scenes  
There are around two hundred puppets 20 to 30 cm tall, which belonged to a non-identified aristocratic Trieste family from the early years of the twentieth century. They are in an excellent state of preservation: as the puppets were not acquired together with play scripts, it is thought that they were intended for an 

adult audience, and used  for works connected 

with actual events of the time.......



Italian rod and glove puppets of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries  



It is generally known that puppet theatres have existed from the sixteenth century on, but their enormous popularity in the nineteenth century is also  recorded by a considerable amount of evidence, both visual (for example, Bartolomeo Pinelli’s lithographs and Dura’s coloured engravings) and literary (from D’Azeglio to Belli,  Stendhal, Andersen and Gregorovius, to name just a few)...

Italian marionettes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries


This section comprises around two hundred items of varied provenance, ranging from 75 to 110 cm in height. There are very famous examples here, as also the whole of the splendid series (around 80cm tall, complete with sets and photographs taken at the time) used for the play Cristoforo Colombo by the famous Genoese Ugo Ponti (1850-1919)...

Italian marionettes of the eighteenth century  

In the eighteenth century, a century rich in theatre, the marionette created extraordinary interest. Unlike the rod puppet, which was of lower-class origin, it was widespread in aristocratic circles, answering, among other things, to the architectural taste of the period.....        



   Shadow puppets  



This section comprises around one hundred items, from China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Turkey and Greece. The oldest shadow puppets go back ....


Foreign rod and string puppets of the twentieth century  



This section comprises around seventy rod and string puppets from various countries, predominantly from Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. ....

Paper and card theatres, sets and characters (with assembly instructions)  

 This section contains hundreds 

of items in paper and cardboard, dating from the end of the nineteenth and up to the end of the twentieth centuries, and of varied provenance ....

Toy rod, glove and string puppets This section comprises marionettes and puppets of various type (finger, cone and rod) constructed from the first years of the twentieth century up to our own times,  totalling around 330 items. 


Toy theatres  

In this section there are a series of toy theatres, predominantly from Poland, fitted with backcloths of coloured board around 40 x 30cm in size, and characters constructed like rod puppets, around 20cm......


Roughly 300 items, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Varying in size, from a few centimetres to 80cm, and of various materials (cloth, porcelain, wood, papier mâché, among others), from many continents.



Sicilian (Catanian, Palermitan ), Pugliese and Neapolitan puppets


This section comprises thirty items, mainly from Palermo, among them a Rinaldo of 1890 with a richly embroidered costume and workmanship betraying a mixture of various styles....


Eastern and Wayang puppets 

and marionettes




Around sixty items constitute a particularly interesting collection, thanks to the variety of their methods of construction, testimony to the diversity of craftsmanship and techniques  of countries as different as, for example, China and Pakistan, Indonesia and Japan. .......

Italian and foreign literature on the history and techniques of puppet theatre

Having herself a vast and profound theatrical knowledge, as artist and collector who not only ceaselessly created items for her own productions, but wrote books and articles relating to her technical discoveries and her historical researches, Maria Signorelli obviously had an enormous library..

Seven trunks of stage properties (costumes and accessories; sets and wings; string supports, separate parts of puppets and marionettes)

There are two trunks of female costumes (skirts, bodices, collars) and male costumes (cloaks, trousers, belts, jerkins) for marionettes, excellently preserved, in silk, velvet, satin, cotton, some finely embroidered (with sequins and jais), of cut and style belonging to various periods....




The Collection includes around sixty items dating from the beginning of the twentieth century, from various countries: thirty masks are Asian, while the others were collected primarily from Africa, Europe and Mexico.






Posters of puppet theatre productions and festivals

Maria Signorelli was a member of the International Council of UNIMA (International Union of the Marionette), which was founded in Prague in 1929. The great Podrecca was active in UNIMA until the Second World War put a temporary end to meetings. Postwar, once it was reconstituted, Signorelli took an active  part in UNIMA, from the first Congress in 1957, convinced that ‘puppet theatre, interpreting the human world in terms of marionettes, puppets , shadow puppets or any other form, offers  enormous scope for the need to escape and for poetry that we all harbour’. ... 

the exhibitions



Scripts (in manuscript or otherwise) of nineteenth- and twentieth-century puppet and marionette plays



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