Character in Italian puppet theatre. Gianduja is an avatar of Gerolamo. The connection between the former and the latter reveals the conditions in which puppeteers often worked, forced by those in power to modify their texts, to go into exile, even to experience time in prison.
In Gianduja’s origins there was in fact a transformation, for political reasons, of the Gironi-Gerolamo character (Gironi is a Piedmontese diminutive of Gerolamo, “Jerome”). Because of allusions first to the Genoese Doge Gerolamo Durazzo, then to Napoleon and his brother Jérôme Bonaparte, made using the Gironi-Gerolamo character as intermediary – and brought to the fore by the doubling of his name – the Turinese puppeteers Giovan Battista Sales and Gioacchino Bellone, of the Racconigi troupe, were found guilty of insolence and lese-majesty in their productions and forced to leave first Genoa, then Turin.
Thus Gianduja came onto the scene, in Caglianetto d’Asti (Piedmont). His name derives from Gioan d’la douja (John with the pitcher), or else from Jean Andouille (John Sausage). He kept practically the same costume as Gironi: brown jacket trimmed in red, yellow waistcoat, green breeches, yellow stockings, a three-cornered hat and hair pulled back in a ponytail. His character is even more jovial and cheeky, but fundamentally honest, with the generosity typical of a man of the Piedmontese region. Gianduja has, of course, a wife, Giacometta, and many Giandujotti (their children). The name of Gianduja’s children has also been given to the famous Turinese chocolates.
Created in 1808, this glove puppet, which became a string puppet in 1843, found success upon his return to Turin. The comedy that marked his debut was Gli anelli magici ovverosia le 99 disgrazie di Gianduia (The Magic Rings, or The 99 Disgraces of Gianduja). The repertoire, aside from the satiric and comedic themes that the Sales-Bellone company and their audiences loved, was inspired by the writings of Carlo Goldoni, Carlo Gozzi, and Camillo Federici; of the latter, the antiquarian scholar Aubin-Louis Millin mentions Il medico notturno o la Metamorfosi di un buon sovrano (The Nocturnal Doctor, or The Metamorphosis of a Good Sovereign).
During his long lifetime as a puppet, Gianduja performed patriotic plays tied to the milestone events of the Risorgimento (Italian: “Rising Again” or “Resurgence”, 1860-1861) in his namesake theatre. There were a number of productions full of fantasy and rich in set design innovations, even though the Bellone-Sales company preserved the wooden puppet heads, carved in Genoa by the Pittaluga brothers in the early days of their theatrical venture, up to the very end of its run.
The Teatro Gianduja closed its doors in 1868, but the “mask” (maschera, stock character) continued to thrive in the hands of another great puppeteer, Luigi Lupi, and his descendants.
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- Cervellati, Alessandro. Storia delle maschere. Bologna, 1954.
- McCormick, John, with Alfonso Cipolla and Alessandro Napoli. The Italian Puppet Theater – A History. Jefferson (NC): McFarland & Co., 2010.
- Millin, Louis Aubin. Voyage en Savoie, en Piémont, à Nice, et à Gênes. Paris, 1816.