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Introduction: The Story of Designing Norman Sicily

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 January 2023

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Summary

The reign of King Roger II of Sicily (1130–1154) marks one of the most significant periods for cultural and religious interaction in the medieval world. At the heart of the Mediterranean, this Norman kingdom became a cultural nexus point, a society characterized by the assimilation and fusion of Latin-Christian, Arab-Muslim and Greek-Orthodox traditions under royal patronage. In order to consolidate royal power, the Norman administration promoted an image of the king as a multicultural ruler with ‘respect for all customs and faiths of his kingdom’. Under royal patronage, various aspects of Greek, Latin and Arabic traditions were appropriated in art and architecture to help disseminate the ideological and political messages of the royal state. But what became of these visual stories in the hands of their creators and in the eyes of their viewers?

This book examines the creative forces alive in, and in dialogue with, the medieval kingdom of Norman Sicily, through a wide variety of visual media: churches, mosaics, coins, illustrated manuscripts, tabulated manuscripts, textiles, artefacts, frescoes, together with the diverse products of archaeological survey and excavation. Rather than looking at art and architecture in terms of genre and form, we examine visual stories as evidence for the interplay of dynamic forces in history. The term ‘designing’ in our title expresses the agency of creators and interpreters of visual messages and stories in the medieval kingdom of Norman Sicily, as well as to enable readers to consider how subsequent generations of scholars, antiquarians and artists have designed and perceived their own stories about the image of this medieval kingdom. The collected essays, themselves a product of cross-disciplinary research and transnational collaboration, reflect on the idea of visual culture – both as it operated at the time, and as it reveals itself to us today.

This book makes the case for treating this culture as a cohesive Mediterranean visual language that is culturally distinct from the three ethnic groups that made up the ‘populus trilinguis’. It argues that the material and visual culture of Norman Sicily was more coherent than syncretic. To say that it resulted from the influences or elements of disparate cultures, including Islamic, Byzantine and Norman, tells only part of the story – the part that goes in one direction (looking backwards to see how things came about).

Type
Chapter
Information
Designing Norman Sicily
Material Culture and Society
, pp. 1 - 22
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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