The Emancipation of Cloth in twelfth-century Palermo

The lecture will center on the relation between the Mantle of Roger II and the mosaic decorations in the Norman Stanza of the Royal Palace and the Cappella Palatina in Palermo.

Abstract

This paper will focus on three examples of the lively artistic production of the Norman Court in twelfth-century Palermo, each renowned in its own right: the Mantle of Roger II now in the Schatzkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the mosaic decorations in the Norman Stanza of the Royal Palace and the Cappella Palatina. What I would like to offer is the sketch of the contours of an object world - a manner of producing, using and thinking about things in twelfth century Palermo - which cuts across the boundaries of media in a performative sense – in the sense of reaching out across space to create a form of enchainment. I have come to see this phenomenon as profoundly and synthetically visual in the multifariousness of its operations, in which one might discern the impress of reception in the very act of production on the part of a community of makers and users. As such it sets itself against our conventional modes of discourse, which are logocentric and rather dis-aggregating in orientation. The key to unlocking historical significance is to go beyond the comfort zone of the parameters set by modes of analysis to which we have become inured. My narrative will be cast in the form of visual hypotheses, that is to say cogent comparisons whose significance demands to be fathomed. Putting them together in concerted sense will allow us not simply to continue the discourse but to change the terms in which it is framed.