This superb antique 19th century marionette was created at the climax of the flowering of Burmese puppetry performance in the last half of the 19th century. This puppet depicts a Wun or senior official with a face full of character and played an important role in the play, since the village officials always narrated the story while the other puppets played it out.
The detailed carving (the figure has genitalia under its costume), the sumptuous clothing, (still in remarkably good condition for its age), and the complex stringing all place it firmly in the period 1870 � 1890. Burmese marionettes of this age and quality are extremely difficult to find nowadays, though small modern examples in inferior materials are still produced for the tourist trade. In fact, this piece compares very well with 19th century examples in the collection of the Brighton & Hove Museum in the United Kingdom and other international museums. Height of puppet 78.5 cm / 31 inches.
19th century Burmese marionettes are traditionally very well articulated � they have all the major joints in the human body, including a separated neck, and can be manipulated in a very human fashion. The puppets are manipulated from behind a chest high screen painted as a backdrop, and the puppeteers are visible, but it was said that when a master puppeteer pulled the strings, the audience became so engrossed in the performance the fact that they were watching puppets rather than actors became irrelevant.
The art of puppet making in Burma is an ancient one which is carried out by men within strict guidelines. The wood used is 'yamane', or Gmelina arborea, which is light, pale in colour, durable and regarded as auspicious. Traditionally, it was required that a full set of 28 puppets, including both humans and animals, should be carved from a single Yamane tree.