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From the Arabs to the Mannierism period


The Arab influence is very much more strongly apparent in the central-plan buildings in Mazara area and mostly in the Palermo churches of San Giovanni degli Eremiti, San Cataldo, Santo Spirito, as well as in some important Palazzi such as the Royal Palace, Zisa, La Cuba, Favara, etc….
Agrigento, Sciacca, Messina, Catania, Monreale, and Cefalù Cathedrals were all built at behest of central power and the Cefalù one, which initial and most important intention had been that of housing the royal tombs, was to remain unfinished.
In this cathedral the complex polychrome decorative elements and the mosaics are clearly visible in the external and internal ornamentation especially in Cefalù and Monreale Cathedrals, this last being the greatest ever carried out in a church.

Other traces are also to be seen in the Palatine Chapel in Palermo, the most outstanding piece of late Norman architecture and built by Roger II, King of Sicily.
The Norman architecture is the witness of a particularly successful stylistic fusion and though little remains of Islamic art in Sicily, in general it imposed certain forms of expression that were to prove to be an indispensable patrimony for Norman art to such an extent that the finest examples of the Arab school can be said to date to the Norman domination in Sicily.
The castles of Paternò and Adrano near Catania are an example of homes and defensive structures with an exact definition of volumes, unmistakably Islamic, built under the Norman kings.
Another fundamental contribution to the design of buildings during the Normans came from the art and the culture of Cistercian, Basilian and Cluny craftsmen who took an active part in their constructions, and it is to them that Sicily owes the introduction of modern continental Gothic styles.

From the middle of the 13th century till the end of the 14th Sicily lived in a quite different cultural climate. The caractheristic of the days of Frederick II ‘s empire and the fulcrum of Palermo urban layout became the Steri, the Chiaramonte’s home, although the family also built a huge number of castles, churches, and palazzi, the work of master craftsmen who had learned their trade on Norman and Swabian construction sites.
This was the new style undergoing evolution conventionally known as Chiaramontano, the most important works in terms of local painting and sculpture being carried out by craftsmen, maestros mainly from Tuscany or the Marches, flanked by a strong current of Iberian and Valencian culture.

This in no way minimises the presence during this period of a great genius like Antonello da Messina, the greatest European painter of the 15th c.. His formation was linked to the developments in Mediterranean culture as he came into contact with Burgundian and Provençal painting, Spanish and Flemish art. His Triumph of Death, painted around 1446, is considered the undoubted masterpiece of the period. His works can be found in many Sicilian museums as the Mandralisca Museum in Cefalù, the Regional Gallery Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo, the Regional Museum in Messina, the Palazzo Bellomo Gallery in Syracuse. Outside Sicily, his works are housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, in the Louvre in Paris, in the Turin Civic Museum, in the Correr Museum in Venice and in the National Gallery in London.
Models of renewal in sculpture appearing in the second half of the 15th c. were Neapolitan and these gained popularity in Sicily through the efforts and works of a number of very talented sculptors: one of them was Domenico Gagini who acquired his art to the Florentine school of Brunelleschi. He was responsible for the restoration of several parts of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo.

The Mannerism period and the transition to Baroque saw Messina as the leader in Sicily.
Artists such as Caravaggio and Anton van Dyck, marked the start of a new course in painting in the island. During his brief stay in Messina, from 1608 to 1609, Caravaggio left the island his last important works housed in the Church of Santa Lucia in Syracuse, in the Capuchin Church and in the Regional Museum in Messina and in Palermo. Van Dyck was in Palermo in 1624 and his works are in Monreale and in Palermo.

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