“Religious Spaces in Islamic and Norman Sicily” in The Religious Architecture of Islam, Volume II, edited by Kathryn Blair Moore and Hasan-Uddin Khan (Turnhout: Brepols, forthcoming 2021) (6,000 words).
Surveying Islamic and Norman Sicily from the end of the eighth century to the end of the twelfth, this essay emphasizes the importance of continual reuse in the religious architecture of southern Italy and Sicily. On account of rapid military and political developments, many pagan and Christian structures were dismantled or appropriated to serve the needs of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish faith communities, sometimes hosting them within the same building. This essay adopts a chronological approach and discusses Sicily during the Islamic period in three parts: the long conquest under the Aghlabids; the development of urban religious spaces in Palermo, both Muslim and Jewish; and finally an overview of Islamic monuments beyond the capital, including rock-cut mosques and the excavated twelfth-century mosque and cemetery at Calatafimi-Segesta.
“St. George and the Trinacrian Rebellions: Art in Sicily during the Later Crusades,” Special Issue of Convivium 5, no. 1 (2018), edited by Gerhard Wolf and Elisabetta Scirocco, The Italian South: Transcultural Perspectives 500-1500: 126-141 (6,000 words).
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Devotion to St George enjoys a long history on the island of Sicily. Decades before the saint’s assistance in the First Crusade (1096-1099), the Holy Rider rallied the Normans when their courage faltered during the Battle of Cerami, fought against Sicilian Kalbid and Zirid forces in 1063. Centuries after his appearance to the Normans, George remained a heroic guardian of the physical, religious, and political limits of the Mediterranean island as the patron saint of both sides of intra-insular political conflict: of both the Aragonese crown, which ruled Sicily following the War of the Sicilian Vespers (1282-1302), and the powerful Chiaramonte family, which frequently challenged the Crown’s authority. This essay seeks to investigate the Chiaramonte’s patronage of George at important nodes of their power on the island in the context of these struggles, namely the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri in Palermo (f. early 14th c.) and at the Castello dei Chiaramonte in Favara (f. late 13th c.). These two residences have been the subject of numerous restoration projects and studies; little attention, however, has been paid to the captivatingpaintings of George, the family’s patron. At the Steri, the saint is boldly depicted in bright colors and heavy outlining in both the entranceway and on the painted ceiling of the Sala Magna, commissioned in the second half of the fourteenth century. Despite considerable damage, the monumental figure of George remains a guardian at the entrance of the Chiaramontan castle in Favara.
‘tabi murolli muidem rep: Pseudo-Kūfic, Retrograde Latin, and the Crusades Remembered on the Palazzo Chiaromonte-Steri Ceiling’, Special Issue of the Journal of Medieval Transcultural Studies 4, nos. 1-2, edited by Giuseppe Mandalà and Matthais Martin Tischler, Transcultural Sicily: New Trends in Islamic Arts, Architecture and Archaeology (2017): 217-268 (18,500 words).
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The article examines how expressions of piety and protection intertwine in the decorative program of the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri in Palermo. Manfredi III Chiaramonte commissioned three Sicilian artists from 1377-80 to paint the ceiling of the Sala Magna, one of the most celebrated artworks in Sicily. Frequently overlooked in scholarship, however, are the pseudo-inscriptions, retrograde Latin, and enigmatic words and phrases painted on the ceiling. Rather than confirm a pleonastic reading of the textual additions, this study places them in conversation with a body of religious subjects painted in the palace, especially St. George and crusaders battling Muslim warriors. It argues that taken together these figural and textual interventions afford both a practical means to safeguard the Chiaramonte against misfortune and, more abstractly, to re-imagine the family’s history during this politically fraught moment in the Trecento.
Left: Quadriportico of Cathedral of Salerno, consecrated 1084. Photo: K. Streahle