The Chivalric Folk Tradition in Sicily

A History of Storytelling, Puppetry, Painted Carts and Other Arts


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About the Book

Tracing the development in Sicily of a chivalric tradition based on the medieval stories of Charlemagne and his knights, this is an analysis of Sicilian storytelling, puppetry, festivals, cart painting and other folk art. Interviews with puppeteers are documented, and hand painted cart panels and playbill posters are described and illustrated. The diffusion of the chivalric tradition in Sicily is explained in part by the “sense of honor” that has permeated Sicilian life. The story of one puppeteer, Girolamo Cuticchio, and his family sheds light on the hardships and uncertain future of this art.

About the Author(s)

Marcella Croce taught Italian at the University of Isfahan in Iran and Kyoto in Japan. She has given lectures on Sicilian culture for the Palermo Elderhostel Program. Since 2002 she has organizer the Palermo semester abroad program of Union College in Schenectady, New York. She has published numerous books on Sicilian traditions in Italian and in English. She lives in Palermo. Her website is

Bibliographic Details

Marcella Croce
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 240
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos (21 in color), appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2014
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9415-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1731-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Foreword by Michael Buonanno 1

Foreword by Christopher Kleinhenz 3

Preface 7

One • From the Middle Ages to the Puppets 11

Introducing Sicily—A Mosaic of Cultures 11

The Chivalric Stories Through the Centuries 13

The Chivalric Tradition in Sicily Before the Renaissance 15

The Success of Chivalric Romances in Sicily in the 16th Century 20

Problems on the Origin of the Sicilian Puppet Show 22

Two • The Oral Tradition 23

The Chivalric Tradition Between Learned and Popular Literature 24

The Role of the Storyteller in the Osmosis Process Between

Dominant and Subordinate Cultures 26

Three Types of Traditional Storytellers: Chivalric Tales, Sacred

Stories and Chronicles 27

The Tradition of Blind Storytellers (Orbi) in Palermo 29

The Traditional Epic Storytellers in Sicily and in Naples 32

Sicilian Traditional Epic Storytellers in the Past and in the Present 34

Traces of the Chivalric Tradition in the Language of the Sicilian

People—Idiomatic Expressions and Proverbs 38

Toponyms and Family Names 40

Three • The Celebrations 42

A Carnival Pantomime with a Knight: The Mastro di Campo 43

Dancing with Swords and a Holy Virgin in Arms 47

Chivalric Stories with Drums and Bells in Monforte San Giorgio 51

Four • The Puppet Shows 53

The Sicilian Puppet Shows in a Nutshell 53

Puppets or Marionettes? The Opera dei Pupi and the Sicilian Dialect 59

The Climax of the Sicilian Puppet Shows: The Famous Legendary

Battle of Roncevaux 61

Roncevaux in Lodico’s Book 62

Roncevaux on the Stage of the Sicilian Puppet Shows 65

The Rout of Roncevaux in the Ideology of the Opera dei Pupi 71

The Puppet Shows as “Necessary Art” of the Sicilian People 76

Five • A Family of Puppeteers 82

Presentation of Girolamo Cuticchio and His Family 82

Story of the Family—Girolamo as an Apprentice Puppeteer 83

A Puppeteer Is Born 85

Crisis and Revival of a Passion 88

Little Puppeteers Grow Up 91

Two Artisans’ Workshops in Giacomo Cuticchio’s Memories 93

Once Upon a Time: The Corte delle Stelle Theater in Cefalù 97

Between pages 100 and 101 there are 16 color plates

containing 21 photographs

Six • The Playbills (Cartelloni) of the Puppet Theater 101

Definitions of Folk Art and Peculiar Characteristics of Sicilian

Folk Art 101

Chivalric Subjects for Sicilian Folk Art 105

The Rout of Roncevaux in Playbill Posters for the Puppet Shows 107

Seven • The Sicilian Painted Carts 118

The Sicilian Carts in a Nutshell 118

History of the Cart 119

Makers of the Cart 129

The Cart Builder and the Sculptor 131

The Metal Worker 135

The Painter 137

Chivalric Subjects Painted on the Carts Belonging to the Pitrè

Museum in Palermo and to the Palazzo d’Aumale Museum

in Terrasini 146

The Maker of Horse Trappings 152

The World of the Cart Drivers 154

The Feast of St. Joseph in Bagheria 158

The Cart as a Sicilian Symbol 160

Lights and Shadows on the Sicilian Carts 165

Other Objects for Chivalric Subjects and Revival in Today’s Folk Art 169

Conclusions 173

Appendix: The Puppets and Their Stories 175

Chapter Notes 191

Bibliography 199

Index 207