In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the Reign of Frederick II (d. 1250)

  • Introduction
  • Cross-Regional Studies
  • Montecassino
  • Calabria
  • Abruzzo and Molise
  • Apulia and Basilicata
  • Frederick II

Art History The Art of Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy through the Reign of Frederick II (d. 1250)
William Tronzo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0127


The modern art historical field of Southern Italian and Sicilian studies was born, in effect, with the publication of Émile Bertaux’s L’art dans l’Italie méridionale de la fin de l’empire romain à la conquête de Charles d’Anjou (Paris: De Boccard, 1903), which still stands as a touchstone for research in this area, especially with the superb addition of the aggiornamento dell’opera edited by Adriano Prandi. The growth of the field was stimulated by a number of conditions and developments: the rise of antiquarian societies in various polities throughout the region, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, where civic and institutional pride spurred research into local histories and traditions; the facilitation of travel to the Italian provinces; the establishment of foreign academies, especially in Rome, whose focus of interest was Italy; the development of the cognate fields of Byzantine and Islamic studies as well as the study of Arabic language and literature (Michele Amari); and the rise of interest in the medieval period as a whole, not to mention the stake of foreign nationals in the histories of the dynasties and individual overlords of these territories, and above all, Frederick II. The configuration of stakeholders in this region over the centuries has thus been complex, and threaded through it is an intricate skein of intentions and ideologies. It would be interesting to entertain the possibility of a relationship between the research projects of affiliated antiquarian societies and national academies, such as the École francaise de Rome or the Bibliotheca Hertziana, and methodologies of research; however, such a study is not yet on the horizon. The field has undergone a kind of renaissance in recent years due to the refocusing of medieval studies from the configuration of largely culturally and religiously segregated initiatives that it traditionally offered—that is, Western Christian or European, Eastern Christian or Byzantine, and Muslim or Islamic, within each one of which Sicily and Southern Italy were marginalized—to the worlds and spaces that bound these initiatives together in the Mediterranean. In this context, Medieval Sicily and Southern Italy have served as a prime case to explore how various cultures and visual traditions born and developed in different parts of the Mediterranean interacted with one another across a broad expanse of time and space. The possibility now opens to various types of extended comparative analysis with multicultural regions elsewhere, such as the Crusader Levant. Increasingly, the close examination and documentation of individual monuments and sites (e.g., Canosa in Puglia, Anglona, Bari) has aided and abetted the broader program of research in this area by providing a firmer foundation for historical narrative in the specifics of material form and chronology.

Cross-Regional Studies

With regard to the arts and architecture from Late Antiquity through the early Middle Ages, remains are often fragmentary, with some exceptions, such as the city of Naples and the Beneventan region in the Lombard period; the physical traces of the Arab occupation of Sicily are rare. On the other hand, evidence from the 11th through the 13th centuries in Sicily and Southern Italy is abundant. One of the efforts of scholars in recent decades has been to integrate this material into the broader traditions of Romanesque and Gothic, not only in Western Europe but also along the Adriatic coast. The proximity of Sicily to Spain and North Africa has prompted scholars to look to these lands for models and sources for various architectural developments in the Norman and Hohenstaufen periods. Southern Italy also has a rupestral tradition (exemplified famously by Matera) comparable to that of Cappadocia, which has been surveyed, catalogued, and analyzed with new intensity, and published in a series of conferences sponsored by the Fondazione San Domenico, Savelletri di Fasano (BR). Architectural patronage was complex and involved individuals and groups from a number of different social and political strata, often in interaction with one another: royal and imperial, ecclesiastical, monastic, and mercantile. In this general framework, certain subfields of study have emerged that are worthy of note: for example, the Byzantine tradition, particularly with regard to orthodox monasteries; Norman patronage; the Salerno and Siculo-Arabic ivories; and castles and fortifications. In the ecclesiastical context, a highly active area of inquiry is the relationship between visual forms—church space, decoration, and furnishing—and the liturgy. The abundance of surviving evidence with regard to the secular realm, on the other hand, has allowed for the exploration of the role of the court in the development of visual culture, a key manifestation being the exhibition and related catalogue, Nobiles Officinae (cited under Palermo), edited by Maria Andaloro.

  • Bertaux, Émile. L’art dans l’Italie méridionale de la fin de l’empire romain à la conquête de Charles d’Anjou. 3 vols. Paris: De Boccard, 1968.

    Reprint of the 1903 Paris edition. Foundational work in the field and essential compendium of key monuments in all media, painstakingly updated under the direction of Adriano Prandi, L’Art dans l’Italie méridionale: Aggiornamento dell’opera di Emile Bertaux, École française de Rome, 3 vols (Paris: Diffusion de Boccard, 1978).

  • Cavallo, Guglielmo, Vera von Falkenhausen, and Raffaella Farioli Campanati. I bizantini in Italia. Milan: Garzanti-Scheiwiller, 1982.

    A broadly based survey of the manifold contributions of Byzantium to the culture and society of Italy, with significant attention to the Italian South.

  • Cilento, Adele, and Alessandro Vanoli. Arabs and Normans in Sicily and the South of Italy. Translated by Brian Eskenazi. New York: Riverside, 2007.

    Beautifully illustrated survey documenting the richness of Mediterranean visual culture from Spain to Egypt in the later Middle Ages. The objects from diverse locations and sources in ivory, rock crystal, textile, and brass sketch a vivid portrait of a visual culture that was created largely by Islamic artisans and that the Normans came to know when they entered Southern Italy and Sicily in the 11th century.

  • de Minicis, Elisabetta, ed. Insediamenti rupestri di età medievale: Abitazioni e strutture produttive Italia centrale e meriodionale; Atti del convegno di studi, Grottaferrata 27–29 ottobre 2005. Spoleto, Italy: Spoleto Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2008.

    A rare volume devoted to the architecture of the non-elite, secular realm.

  • Falla Castelfranchi, Marina. “L’icona agiografica nel Mezzogiorno e sue peculiarità.” In Agiografia e iconografia nelle aree della civiltà rupestre; Atti del V Convegno Internazionale sulla civiltà rupestre, Savelletri di Fasano (BR), 17–19 novembre 2011. Edited by Enrico Menesto, 167–183. Spoleto, Italy: Fondazione Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2013.

    Charts new territory in the historical analysis of a generally understudied genre of artistic production in the Italian South: the icon.

  • Fondazione San Domenico: Atti del convegno internazionale sulla civilta rupestre. Spoleto, Italy: Spoleto Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2003–.

    The publication of a series of conferences on the ruspestral arts, with important contributions to the history of Southern Italy and Sicily.

  • Gabrieli, Francesco, and Umberto Scerrato. Gli arabi in Italia: Cultura, contatti e tradizioni. Milan: Libri Scheiwiller, 1979.

    Wide-ranging and innovative survey of the arts in all media, derived from or inspired by Islamic art and architecture, in Italy in the Middle Ages. The book’s illustrations demonstrate in no uncertain terms how powerful examples of the so-called minor arts—ceramics, textiles, ivory carvings—could easily hold their own against the genres of monumental and public.

  • Giuri, Paolo. Giacomo Boni: Cronache sulle conservazione di un ignorato patrimonia architettonico nell’Italia meridionale. Università del Salento, Dipartimento di Beni culturali, Saggi e testi 56. Galatina, Italy: Mario Congedo Editore, 2017.

    An extended analysis of an important moment in the history of restoration in Southern Italy.

  • Venditti, Arnaldo. Architettura bizantina nell’Italia meridionale. Naples, Italy: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1967.

    Dated but still useful survey of the area.

  • Zchomelidse, Nino. Art, Ritual, and Civic Identity in Medieval Southern Italy. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

    Adheres to a regional scheme both geographically (from Naples moving south) and chronologically (from the Lombards through the Angevins). The focus is on key elements of Bertaux’s narrative, essentially the pulpit and the paschal candelabrum, as well as the Exultet roll, which contains the text and images that played a part in the Easter liturgy.

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