It is a breathtaking combination of vivid and fluorescent images and colors and a stunning mix of several religions and cultures. This is also one the most beautiful churches in Italy. I am discussing about the Palatine Chapel ( see the image)( Cappella Palatina in Italian). The church is located at the center of the ground floor of the Norman palace in Palermo, the chief town of Sicily. This palace is the seat of the Sicilian Parliament, one the most important autonomous regional governments in Italy. The construction of the chapel was ordered by Norman King of Sicily Roger II, in 1132, by reusing an old chapel built in 1080 (which, in turn, became a crypt). The chapel was finished between 1140 and 1143.
Among the main features, the chapel has an arched ceiling crossed by three magnificent arches that all together shape an enormous cross. The dome, the side nave and walls are all painted and depicted with sacred images and mosaics. Inside this chapel, indeed, several arts, religions and cultures meet. I am saying about this, because the architectural style and the paintings come from various artists and cultures. Some images, indeed, relate to the Norman style, especially the sacred images ( see the image below), while some scenes about daily life, beasts and plants relate to the Byzantine art. The geometric frames that are amid the walls are instead related to the Arab architectural style.
The ceiling of the main altar of the church is depicted with a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (the ruler of the Universe) ( see the first image). Below this painting, there is an image of the Saint Virgin, but this image was added later, in the 18 century. Before the images of the Virgin, this area was also surrounded by several windows that enlightened the ceiling and the floor. The Christian mosaics show the images of five saints, also known as the Greek fathers of the church, namely St. Gregory of Nissa, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom and St. Nichola. .Furthermore, the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator is also surrounded by rows of angels, prophets, evangelists and saints, in the south wall, while in the north wall, by warrior saints.
The Byzantine mosaics are arranged with not sacred images that also show Latin and Greek inscriptions ( see the image). These are placed in the nave, the unique area of the chapel with no sacred images. The nave was decorated and embellished by the successors of Roger II, namely William I and William II.
The Arab mosaics ( see the image) are, instead, a spectacular combination of wood and marbled clusters made with the so called technique of geometric frames. In the Palatine chapel, you can mostly see Arab wood mosaics perfectly carved by real artists.
The fact several kinds of images coexist in a Christian church proves that Sicilians were favourable to welcome any culture and religion.
Paintings and mosaics were indeed done by local and Tunisian craftsmen. The Palatine Chapel is probably born by the merge of the an Eastern Bizantine sanctuary and a western basilica nave. For this reason, many images don’t reflect any transcendental message, but only a figurative art that is absolutely to see and admire. The sizes of the Palatine Chapel are extremely reduced in respect of the other big Sicilian churches, but its beauty and architectural style are very similar to the Monreale cathedral. Rather, this chapel is also called the miniature of the Monreale cathedral.
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