L’isola di Pinocchio, Pinocchio’s Island. You are not going to find this island on a map among the over a hundred islands forming Venice, but on a bell in the district of Cannaregio.
We ring the bell and there we are, in front of us a narrow passage and an open staircase leading up to the mezzanino of a Venetian palazzo.
Smiling Roberto with his leather apron comes out to greet us on the small landing stage at the top of the staircase. Curly hair, glasses and this apron, he corresponds exactly to our idea of a modern day Geppetto, the woodcarver and father of Pinocchio.
He leads us into his magical workshop where the exposed wooden-beamed ceiling creates a warm and friendly atmosphere. A swing awaits his younger guests.
A marionette is a wooden ‘doll’ controlled with strings, a puppet instead is animated by using fingers and hands.
Roberto is one of the 54000 inhabitants, a true Venetian. He grew up in this district; he studied to become a surveyor; over 25 years ago his heart however brought him to Tuscany, there he met his future marionette maker ‘maestro’ and when he returned to Venice he returned with a new job in mind, he wanted to become a marionette maker.
Roberto speaks full of enthusiasm about how he chooses pine wood for the bodies, wooden paste mixture for heads, hands and shoes; he recycles this mixture from his wood shavings, after having sifted them through. By adding glue, plaster and a secret ingredient (this he will explain only on a guided tour!) they turn into a very resistant mixture.
When planning a new marionette he starts from a historical research, then he draws a sketch of his personal interpretation of the character. With clay he creates a positive form; he makes a mould, actually 2 halves so that he can later on pour in them the wooden paste (with the secret ingredient). After 2 days he unites the two halves with plaster and with sand paper smoothes them.
He then hand paints the heads with water colours; the mould used is the same, but each head is one of a kind. Then he waxes the head. Why? so that it becomes more resistant and resembles human skin.
Ladies’ heads are always more challenging!
He is not lacking however of imagination and demonstrates a lot of creativity.
This is how hands and shoes look like!
Roberto creates with passion several types of marionettes, small and large ones: Venetian characters (Casanova, the Plague Doctor), literary characters (from novels and movies Baron von Munchausen, Peter Pan, Pippi Longstocking), characters from the Commedia dell’Arte (Pantalone, Pulcinella, Brighella, Polinchinelle) up to portraits of clients.
On a tour Roberto will reveal all the secrets of his marionettes of Jack the Sparrow with realistic hair, sun tan and leather hat or Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra with lovely black braids and golden woven sandals.
The costumes are accurate in all details, it is a small family-run business: his sister is a seamstress and a costume designer.
With passion Roberto will also explain the importance of strings and of different control bars and much more
Come on a tour and let us have fun !