In the heart of Palermo, in the Norman Palace, the chapel was built by Muslim architects and craftsmen. Once the rulers of Sicily, they had become the conquered.
So they built places for Christian worship with Christian images on the walls, but high on the ceiling, where nobody could see properly before zoom lenses were invented, they decorated the wooden beams as they wished. They painted belly dancers in transparent dresses, musicians playing drums and tambourines, black men and white men naked together, and men in turbans hunting on horseback.
This post is by Adelisa Salernitana, a Sicilian American and expert on Sicilian history.
EDIT: I’ve made some scans and have adjusted the images as best as possible. Wish I could have copied these in glorious color, but sometimes you have to work with what you can get.
On Thursday, I braved the holiday tourist crowds and took the train from Trenton to New York City. My destination: The Stephen A. Schwarzman building of the New York Public Library. My reason: The library had this set of books and they had kindly reserved them for me in the arts and architecture reading room.
One book of this four-volume set was my holy grail of Norman Sicily research. Before going to Sicily in November 2006, I had read several mentions of a fantastic wooden painted stalactite muqarnas ceiling in the Cappella Palatina of the Norman Palace – the ceiling allegedly had scores of Islamic paintings of courtiers, musicians, dancers, and drinkers, done in the 1130s-1140s…
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