In Pursuit of Magnificence: Art & Literature in Medieval Sicily

My first book project, In Pursuit of Magnificence: Art & Literature in Medieval Sicily,  focuses on the Chiaramonte family and their patronage of art and architecture and  articulates how their commissions operated as a key tactic of gaining visibility and legitimacy in the face of political upheaval.

The painted ceiling of the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri in Palermo serves as the volume’s anchor for exploring these political threads, where poetry, prayers, and religious violence intertwine along twenty-four beams in the palace’s main reception room. [1] Between 1377 and 1380, Grand Admiral Manfredi III Chiaramonte commissioned Cecco of Naro, Pellegrino D’Areno, and Simone of Palermo —three Sicilian artists from Chiaramontan territories— to paint the ceiling, one of the most extensively painted surfaces in fourteenth-century Sicily. Much of the artistic patronage of peer families survives only in scarce and precious examples, including glazed pottery fragments, sections of tapestries, and rare inventories of libraries. The corpus of wall paintings and the painted ceiling in the Steri, however, provide valuable information regarding literary and artistic traditions in a society which did not typically record romances in inventories and whose government changed dramatically across the fourteenth century. On account of the palace’s temporal position, which straddles the boundaries Medieval and Early Renaissance art, and its location in southern Italy, the Steri remains practically unknown to historians of Italian art.


[1] The bibliography of the Steri is relatively contained; it is published, however, almost exclusively in Italian. See Ettore Gabrici and Ezio Levi, Lo Steri e le sue pitture(Palermo: L’Epos, 2003 [re: 1932]); Giuseppe Spatrisano, Lo Steri di Palermo e l’architettura siciliana del Trecento (Palermo: 1972); Ferdinando Bologna, Il soffitto della Sala Magna allo Steri di Palermo:e la cultura feudale siciliana nell’autunno del Medioevo (Palermo: 1975); Lo Steri di Palermo nel secondo Novecento: dagli studi di Giuseppe Spatrisano al progetto di Roberto Calandra con la consulenza di Carlo Scarpa, ed. by Antonietta Iolanda Lima (Palermo: 2006); Licia Buttà, “Storie per governare: iconografia giuridica e del potere nel soffitto dipinto della Sala Magna del Palazzo Chiaromonte Steri di Palermo,” in Narrazione, Exempla, Retorica: studi sull’iconografia dei soffitti dipinti nel Medioevo Mediterraneo, ed. Licia Buttà (Palermo: 2013) pp. 69-126. For a complete survey of high quality photographs of the ceiling, see Francesco Vergara Caffarelli, Il soffitto dello Steri di Palermo: rilievo fotogrammetrico digitale (Palermo: 2009).