The Italian word “fantoccini” was often employed in Britain for jointed puppets operated from above by rods and/or strings. The word “marionette” did not come into general usage in Britain until the second part of the 19th century, prior to which everything from the Elizabethan “motion” to “artificial comedians”, “automatons” or even “moving waxworks” might be used for this type of puppet. The word fantoccini is a diminutive of the Italian fantoccio (French fantoche) and derives from fante (cf. English “infant”) when similar terminology was often used for both children and dolls because of their miniature stature. “Pygmies” and “Lilliputians” are other terms used for marionette shows. The first use of “fantoccini” in England was when Carlo Perico brought his company to London in 1770. The word was quickly adopted especially by street performers, such as Grey and Candler in the 1820s. Their theatres were very similar to Punch and Judy booths and the programme consisted of a series of trick and variety numbers. The word fantoccini retained an association with such figures rather than with those presenting the standard dramas and melodramas or the older folk repertoire.
In Italy the term “burattino”, which today means a glove puppet, could apply to any type of puppet prior to the 20th century and classification was more by performance context than by technique of operation. In 1785 in Italy Francesco Rossi from Turin advertised his burattini in spectacular shows similar to those of the marionette theatre. An illustrated bill indicates clearly that he was using figures operated from below, but there is a strong suggestion that for this type of show he was making considerable use of some form of rod puppet or marotte. Today such figures are often referred to as “fantocci” and appear to have been prevalent in Piedmont, where they are still in use with Bruno Niemen who mixes glove puppets and simple rod puppets, thus allowing a solo performer to use a large number of figures.
The word “fantoche” has been in use for a long time in France to indicate a jointed figure operated by rods and/or strings (wires). Many 19th-century French and German marionette performers tried to give themselves additional respectability by calling themselves “mécanicien” or “mechanikus” whilst the French showman Comte in the 1830s advertised himself as a “physicien” (adept in the science of physics), and combined his show with some basic displays of science. By the latter part of the 19th century the term fantoccini had become quite fashionable in France. In the 1870s Émile-Auguste Pitou described his enterprise as a “théâtre de fantoccini” and himself as a director of the “Théâtre des Variétés mécaniques”. Levergeois Borgniet advertised “Variétés amusantes” (Entertaining Variety Acts) at his Théâtre des Fantoches, formerly the Théâtre du Petit-Poucet (Tom Thumb Theatre), whilst Samuel Dulaar announced “Fantoches perfectionnés” performing miniaturized music hall at his Théâtre des Lilliputiens (Lilliputian Theatre).
When John and Thomas Holden in the 1870s and 80s brought their companies to France and further afield, John Holden called his company the “Theatre des Fantoches” and Thomas’s marionettes were also known as “fantoches”. In the early 20th century in northern Italy Concordia called his marionettes “fantocci”. The Neapolitan and Sicilian puppeteers, or “pupari” (see Pupi), with their magnificent rod marionettes often concluded the show with a few variety numbers also described as “fantocci”.