Friday, February 8, 2013

Print of the Day: A Guignol Stamp from Lyon, 1914

French, 1914
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The V&A describes this stamp as depicting “a scene from a Punch and Judy Show.” That’s partially correct. As we can see, this is not Mr. Punch. This puppet fellow with his long braid of hair and square hat is Guignol (pronounced Geen-yol), Mr. Punch’s Cousin from France.

While Punch has his immediate roots in the Italian tradition of Commedia dell’ Arte, Guignol has his roots in necessity. Guignol was the creation of a French dentist, Laurent Mourguet, from Lyon who used puppets to try to calm the nerves of his rightfully terrified patients. After awhile, the dentist turned his full-time attention to puppetry creating the characters of Gnafron and Guignol. As time went on, Guignol became a celebrity in his own right, and the tradition of Guignol shows grew just as the tradition of Mr. Punch was growing in England. Guignol began to borrow bits of business and characters from both Commedia dell’ Arte and Mr. Punch. Now, in France, the word Guignol is used in close association with any puppet or puppet show, and curiously, as a vague insult, meaning “Buffoon.” Guignol also lent his name to a theatre and a particular style of grotesque story-telling, “Grand Guignol.”

This stamp from Lyon shows a scene of Guignol with his wife Madelon and the gendarme Flagéolet.  And, here's something in French...  Who knows?

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