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Cultural Complexity in Medieval Sicily

Cultural Complexity in Medieval Sicily

By Rebecca S. Wrightson

Senior Honors Project, University of Rhode Island, 2012

Abstract: Sicily under Norman rule, dating from 1091 to 1266, embodies a multi-cultural society that produced some of the most eclectic architecture of the middle ages. Located in an immensely strategic area, Sicily was inhabited and influenced by various cultures residing in and crossing through the Mediterranean. The Normans sponsored art and architecture that incorporated traditions of the Latin Christian, Greek Christian, and Muslim cultures. Roger II and his grandson William II are the men responsible for founding the architectural structures that reflect the culturally diverse and tolerant society. The structures of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, the Cathedral of Cefalù, the Church of the Martorana, and the Cathedral and Cloister of Monreale embody the diverse architectural elements and decoration which combine to create the style of Norman Sicily.

These four sites, some of the best preserved in Sicily, demonstrate the concept of cultural complexity through their form and decoration. They were commissioned by the Norman kings of Sicily, Roger II and William II, but were produced by craftsmen from the varied cultures: mosaicists from Byzantium, artists from Greece, and craftsmen from North Africa combine their artistic traditions in the four royally commissioned structures. These architectural and decorative elements reinforce the liturgical function of each site, while displaying the different culture’s artistic traditions and religious practices through specific motifs, materials, and stylistic trends. Roger and William used the combining of artistic traditions to display and emphasize the cosmopolitan nature of their kingdom.

In order to understand such diverse physical aspects, like the ones in Norman Sicily, we must present and interpret the information in a new way. I will present this research through my creation of a virtual museum, which examines new ways of displaying architecture, decoration, and evidence for cultural identity. In using technology, viewers will be able to visualize architecture and its decorative elements in context and will be able to understand the different cultural influences in a comprehensible manner. This virtual museum uses Norman Sicily as a guide for how to display diverse cultural traditions culminating in one society.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Rhode Island

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