Arts, architecture, culture in Norman Italy

Painting and large decorations

Fresco paintings from the Romanesque period still surviving in the churches of southern Italy, like the mosaics, depict religious subjects from the Old and New Testament, in which the Norman kings may have played an important role in commissioning the work but this remains hard to reconstitute, there being no propaganda of any kind expressed to highlight their great deeds.
Salerno cathedral for example was decorated with mosaics and murals whose inscriptions clearly state that they were commissioned by the Normans, although this origin is not apparent in the figurative programme.

One of the most beautiful churches decorated with frescoes, Sant'Angelo in Formis, near Capua, preserves the tradition of Benedictine iconography in Monte Cassino’s sphere of influence where theological values and the Roman model predominate. Abbot Desiderius himself is represented in the act of offering the church to the Archangel. Nor are the representations of St Michael, specially honoured in Normandy, specifically Norman, for devotion to the Archangel predates the coming of the Normans.

The cycle of paintings in the Sicilian church of Ravenosa was undoubtedly an exception: it commemorated the conquest of Sicily against the Moslems, recounted in the chronicle of Geoffrey Malaterra, whose account leads one to think that it was a kind of Mediterranean equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry. But nothing has survived of the piece.

The famous painted ceilings of the Capella Palatina in Palermo are altogether different. They use a definitely Eastern iconographic repertoire to portray a vision of heaven and ostentatiously display the splendour of the court at Palermo, and there is nothing else quite like them.


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