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Three-dimensional male humanoid puppet: large head (part b) fits into body with skirt (part a), and a control rod (part c) with a long shaft passes through the body and fits into the neck of the figure's head. The body has jointed arms, each with a long controlling rod attached. The figure's face is dark red with black and white spots. Mouth open exposing one tooth at front of mouth; long upper lip. Nose, eyes small; black pupils. Head painted dark red; lump at back of head. Dark multi-coloured fabric skull cap on head. Arms long and dangling; hands large, and positioned at right angles to wrists. Close-fitting jacket with a rust-coloured, knit torso, a high collar, and short sleeves of patterned cotton. Beige belt around waist. Plaid skirt in grey and brown with purple and off-white stripes.

History Of Use

Javanese puppetry as an art form probably developed by the 11th century. The three-dimensional wooden wayang golek puppets of western Java, which are to be distinguished from the earlier and more sacred wayang kulit shadow plays puppets or other forms, appeared during the 16th century. Originally the plays depicted Javanese mythology, but after the Indian conquest of Java the Hindu epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata, were incorporated into the cycles, which comprise about 200 plays. An individual or group hires a dalang (puppet-master) to celebrate important occasions. The performances often last all night and are generally presented in three acts, with vocal and instrumental accompaniment. The individual plays vary widely in detail but usually involve conflict between good and evil. They serve a moral and religious purpose, and more recently, one of political commentary. Each puppet's character is represented by its appearance and placement onstage; protagonists with strong elements of good are placed to the right, antagonists of violent or evil nature to the left. Petruk, his father and brothers are indigenous additions to the Hindu cycles of legends, who appear onstage as clowns and wits, adding an element of comedy to the noble and high-minded content. They therefore act as intermediaries between the common audience and the characters onstage - lords and gods - and may account for the long popularity of the genre. Petruk and the other members of the Punakawan are usually the only characters used for comments on politics and other contemporary matters, and for asides which have no official part in the plays but are rather topical.

Iconographic Meaning

Comic appearance, grotesque features, large hands and arms are characteristic of clowns. Red face represents anger or other extreme emotions, usually associated with evil beings. Clothing and position of hand may suggest a noble ancestry. Facial expression considered irreverent and arrogant; clothing also gaudy. Bulbous features and especially the single tooth are traits of Petruk, although usually he also displays a very large nose. Petruk is one of the Punakawan, clowns in the service of the Pandawa brothers who are in constant conflict with their evil cousins the Kurawas, one of the main themes of the Mahabharata cycle of plays. His father Semar and brothers Bagong and Gareng comprise the Punakawan; Semar is thought to be a manifestation of Ismaya, protecting deity of the island of Java, whose importance was displaced with the arrival of Hinduism. Although they serve the good Pandawas, their apparent evil features are reflected in parody of their noble masters and comments on less than austere topics.

Cultural Context

Theatrical performance.

Item History

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