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Segesta Theatre

Cathedrals of Cefalu'

Imposing architectural remains of temples, theatres and aqueducts which still rise majestically on the sites of great ancient cities, as well as the large numbers of fine sculptures, decorative features of ancient buildings, pottery and precious items displayed in the main archaeological museums in Sicily of bear witness two centuries of Graeco-Sicel, Roman and Byzantine culture, making up one of the most remarkable archaeological treasures of old mankind. The temples of Segesta, Selinunte and Agrigento, the theatres of Taormina, Syracuse and Selinunte, the aqueducts of Termini and Agrigento, defensive works of Syracuse ( the Castle of Euryalus) the archaeological museums in Syracuse, Palermo, Trapani, Himera, etc, as well as the vast archaeological sites of ancient cities such us Agrigento, Heraclea Minoa, Himera, Segesta, Selinunte, etc, can to be easily summarized here. For brevity’s sake, we can say that Sicilian art of antiquity was characterized by presence of majestic architectural works in cities developed technical skills (particularly in the field of later –conveying systems), the magnificence of the Roman patrician villas, the refined statuary and the richness and realism of the great mosaic cycles. Old is features flourished again both under the Byzantines and in the Middle Ages when the rest of western Europe was still struggling to free itself from a semi-barbarian condition. Sicilian medieval art in the first decades of the Kingdom (from the end of the 11C trough 12C) was characterized by the fact  that almost all the works were commissioned and financed by the Crow. Thanks to their prerogatives as “papal legates”, the members of the Hauteville dynasty were able to build the first great Latin cathedrals (Messina; Lipari; Cefalù; Monreale; Catania; Mazara; Agrigento; etc.).In these churches, the new Latin architectural spatiality imported from central Italy and northern Europe combined with the sumptuous decoration from the Maghreb, with the narrative schemes of Byzantine mosaics, and with Apulian Romanesque sculpture.
Roger II built Cefalù Cathedral, where he wished to be buried. Later, he had his Royal Palace erected in Palermo, with his own Palace Chapel (the “Palatine Chapel”), the most magnificent example of Sicilian medieval art, built in 1132 and dedicated to St. Peter.The Royal Palace also housed the royal art and crafts workshop, where crowns, jewels, precious furnishings and ceremonial clothes were made. Some of these can still be admired today, such as the splendid Byzantine imperial crown (Kamelaukion) now displayed in the Cathedral Treasury. Roger II was succeeded by William I, who built the Zisa royal residence within the great royal park. His son, William II, built the Cuba and the majestic Monreale Cathedral, another jewel of royal art. The interior is richly decorated with splendid Byzantine mosaics, and the cloister is one of the most elegant expressions of medieval sculpture applied to architecture. In the meantime, the old Palermo Cathedral was partially demolished and reconstructed as a much larger building on the initiative of Bishop Gualtiero, who transformed it into the greatest cathedral of medieval Sicily. The age of Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen was mainly characterized by the building of his castles, which represent a “unicum” in world history. The residential needs of the sovereign and defensive needs were combined and satisfied in construction of refined formal elegance: Castello Ursino (Catania); Castello Maniace (Syracuse) and the Castles of Augusta and Augusta and Milazzo, as well as the Towers of Enna, of the Colombaia in Trapani, and of Gela.  In the14C, due to the Vespers War and to Baronial Anarchy, Sicily withdrew into itself, and the art it produced was a mere continuation of the expressive forms which had characterized the previous age. In the 15C, however, the first step was taken towards a new aesthetic taste. The most outstanding figure in architecture was Matteo Carnalivari of Noto, who was active, in Palermo towards the end of the century (Palazzo Abatellis, Palazzo Aiutamicristo and the church of Santa Maria della Catena).

Portrait of an Unknown Seaman

Antonello da Messina 
Portrait of an Unknown Seaman

Duomo of Messina

Duomo of Messina

Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) is the greatest Sicilian painter of all time, and one of the greatest 15C masters in Europe. Some of his paintings have remained in Sicily: the Portrait of an Unknown, Seaman, in the Cefalù Mandralisca Museum, the Three Saints and the splendid Annunzíata in the Palermo Gallery, the San Gregorio polyptych in the Messina Museum, and the Annunciation in the Palazzo Bellomo Museum in Syracuse. In sculpture, the most outstanding figure was Domenico Gagini (Bissone c 1420 - Palermo 1492), the founder of a workshop which, for many generations, held a prominent position in the field. In the 16C, the expressive forms of Tuscan and Roman Mannerism began to gain ground. The leading figures were: Antonello Gagini (1478-1536) and Polidoro da Caravaggio (the author of two fine lateral doors in the Duomo of Messina). When Antonello died, his work was continued by his sons. Many Tuscan sculptors moved to Sicily during the 16C, including Montorsoli (famous for the fountains of Orion and Neptune; the Scylla, now in the Messina Museum). Among his disciples were Martino Montanini and A. Calamech. In architecture, the forms of Mannerism became popular in the first half of the 17C. Examples of this are, in Palermo: the Quattro Canti (Giulio Lasso); Porta Felice (Pietro Novelli); the churches of Olivella and San Domenico; the old Shipyard (Mariano Smiriglio); the church of the Teatini (Giacomo Besio). And also: the Town Hall in Syracuse (G. Vermexio); the Benedectine Monastery in Catania (V. De Franchis); the College and Church of the Jesuits in Trapani (N. Masuccio). Baroque art was inaugurated by the church of the Annunziata dei Teatini in Messina (Guaríno Guarini). It took more austere forms in Palermo with Paolo Amato (1634-1714): Church of the Salvatore; and Giacomo Amato (1643-1732): Church of the Pietà and Santa Téresa alla Kalsa.

The famous Villas of Bagheria are a case apart: here the architects' creativity is reflected in the scenographic architectural design and sinuous external staircases (Villa Palagonia; Villa Valguarnera; etc., 18C). More fanciful Baroque forms characterize the towns rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake (Catania, Syracuse, Noto, Grammichele, Avola, Ragusa, Modica, etc.). The Palermitan Vaccarini planned the reconstruction work in Catania (façade of the Cathedral; Palazzo Valle; the Town Hall; St Agatha's Abbey). Rosario Gagliardi (1726-1770) was active in different centres: Noto, Ragusa, Comiso, Caltagirone. His works include the churches of San Domenico and of the Collegio (Noto), those of San Giorgio and San Giuseppe (Ragusa) and the Cathedral of Modica. All these works are characterized by plastic structures and dynamic and original outlines. In painting, the most outstanding figure was P. Novelli of Monreale (1603-1647). His works include the paintings in the Capuchin churches at Ragusa and Leonforte, a large painting in Monreale, and a St. Christopher in the Catania Museum. Vito D'Anna (1720-1769) can be considered the founder of the school of Sicilian fresco painters of the second half of the century. In sculpture, Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732) occupies a place of his own. The descendant of a family of sculptors and plastic artists, he was active in Palermo, where he decorated with joyful stuccoes a large number of churches and oratories (Oratories of San Lorenzo, Santa Cita, etc.). Another great sculptor and plastic artist was Ignazio Marabitti (1719-1797) (marble altarpiece of the Apotheosis of St. Benedict in Monreale Cathedral). 19C architecture began with the neoclassical work of the Palermitan G. V. Marvuglia (1729-1814), including the Oratory of San Filippo Neri all'Olivella and Villa Belmonte, in the Acquasanta quarter (Palermo). The most outstanding figures of late-19C architecture were the Palermitans G. B. F. Basile (Teatro Massimo) and G. Damiani Almeyda (Politeama Garibaldi). The period between the 19C and the 20C was dominated by the architect Ernesto Basile, a talented designer who introduced a refined and independent Sicilian Liberty style, a forerunner of Rationalism. Among his disciples were several distinguished architects.

Villa Trabia  in  Bagheria

 Villa Trabia  in  Bagheria

Giacomo Serpotta's Sculpture
Palermo:Oratories of Santa Cita
Giacomo Serpotta's Sculpture
Villa Florio
House in Sicilian Liberty style:
Villa Florio - Palermo -