Ruggero LONGO, L’opus sectile medievale in Sicilia e nel Meridione normanno

Ruggero Longo, L’opus sectile medievale in Sicilia e nel Meridione normanno [Medieval opus sectile in Sicily and in Norman Southern Italy], Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2011, (dir. M. Andaloro, U. Santamaria, Università degli studi della Tuscia)


Résumé/abstract :


The medieval opus sectile has generally raised marginal interest by art criticism. Scholars were mainly concentrated on Roman cosmatesque production. A minor attention was drew to Norman patronage despite a precocious and well documented development of the technique of opus sectile in Sothern Italy and Sicily: in these areas wall and pavement decorations in opus sectile clearly differentiate from the Roman production because of the presence of elements issued from Islamic tradition which contributed to enrich style and renew ornamental language. The goal of the present inquiry is to set up, on reliable basis, the artistic phenomenon related to opus sectile in the Norman South. The first part of the volume deals with the problem of definition of opus sectile; the theoretical question of ornament is then faced through aesthetic observations and historiographical inquiries aiming to measure the appreciation of ornament since the Middle Ages tothe contemporary age. Therefore, deepening the aesthetic and medieval art criticism of ornament reveals to be relevant. Medieval ornament was conceived in order to provide pleasure and to lead to contemplation. Opus sectile responded to both needs. A digression on aesthetic of Islamic ornament allows to single out similarities and contacts with Western medieval aesthetics. Islamic art was specialized in supplying pleasure without a specific meaning. This peculiarity gave to Muslim craftsmen the possibility to answer to the needs of different cultures, including the Norman’s commands. The value attributed to ornament in the middle Ages highlights deficiencies of art criticism, traditionally concentrated on representative arts. The interests on ornament, expanded since the second half of the XIXth century, show a taxonomic mania which very rarely raises to be a real instrument intended for the comprehension of artistic and cultural phenomena. The study of Norman opus sectile demonstrates instead how ornament can provide precious clues and contribute to understand the complex setting from which the Mediterranean koinè spread out during the Middle Ages. The second part of the volume moves toward the art historical inquiry of opus sectile, related both to monumental and cultural contexts. The research has been led through the analytical study of four buildings of Norman kingdom, accurately selected because of their relevance in the framework of Southern architectural production. The churches of Sant’Adriano in San Demetrio Corone (end XIth- beginning XIIth century), San Menna in Sant’Agata dei Goti (1110), the Palatine Chapel in Palermo (1140) and Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio in Palermo (1143) have been examined. In order to face and solve the questions exposed above, unraveling the ‘twine’ of relations and delineating a reliable setting of artistic phenomenon of opus sectile in Norman Southern Italy, the research makes use of two principal tools: the cataloguing of ornamental patterns and the identification of stone materials employed. The analytical study of patterns let us to understand the dynamics that took to their creation and to point out the technical and artistic value of artifacts realized in opus sectile. Ornamental motifs applied to opus sectile have been catalogued for every single building following a chronological order: signs and influences from different cultures are thereby explicitly disclosed, allowing to draw a progression and to formulate hypothesis on links and relations between teams of craftsmen operating in the building sites of the four edifices considered. The identification of materials employed yielded important results, which confirm hypothesis formulated on the basis of ornamental patterns. It was therefore possible to trace a renewed panorama of medieval opus sectile, isolating the teams of stone workers which executed decorations in the Norman building sites and outlining relationships between different groups. Notably, a special lithotype has been identified among white tesserae: it is an artificial product, that we named stracotto, originally employed in opus sectile decoration in the Norman South. Early inquiries revealed the presence of stracotto in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo. Stracotto has afterword been singled out in decoration of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio and in the Zisa Palace in Palermo. The value of this ‘new’ material, presumably employed to replace the roman palombino, clearly appeared when the stracotto was found in the opus sectile pavement in the Salerno Cathedral, realized between 1121 and 1136 for the will of archbishop Romualdo. The employing of stracotto in Salerno demonstrates that this special white stone was previously used in this center, and only later in the examined Sicilian architectures. It is thus likely that artisans working at the opus sectile of the Palatine Chapel came from Salerno. The hypothesis of a ‘flow’ of teams between Salerno and Palermo helps both to define a setting of exchanges and influences established under Roger II and to explain how the Islamic taste permeated in Southern Italy through Sicily. The last part of the volume is dedicated to the catalogue: it encompasses the complete survey of opus sectile in the four Norman edifices considered. Pavements and decorations in opus sectile are graphically rendered by tables containing ortophotographic surveys and geometric surveys of ornamental patterns. The catalogue thus offers a ‘wide-angle lens photography’ of the opus sectile production in the regions of the Norman kingdom, from Campania to Sicily, between XIth and XIIth centuries. Results of scientific analysis are lastly exposed in the Appendix; analysis have been executed on a range of stone samples employed in the Norman buildings studied.

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Rédaction (2016, 6 février). Ruggero LONGO, L’opus sectile medievale in Sicilia e nel Meridione normanno. Mondes nordiques et normands médiévaux. Consulté le 13 juin 2024, à l’adresse

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