Emiral Patronage: George of Antioch, the Martorana, and the Arab-Christians of Norman Sicily

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art

First Advisor

Nelson, Robert


Twelfth-century Latin panegyrist Peter of Eboli famously described the multicultural atmosphere of twelfth-century Palermo, Sicily as a “fortunate city, endowed with a trilingual people.” In his words, he captured the intense cultural and religious interaction of the capital city of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily (1072-1194). The arts of Norman Sicily offer an unprecedented mixture of Byzantine, Islamic, and Romanesque visual forms which exemplify this distinctive syncretic environment. Scholars have overwhelmingly investigated this visual culture through the lens of royal patronage, attending to the celebrated royal foundations of the Cappella Palatina, Cefalù, and Monreale, as well as the products of royal workshops. However, the relative weight given to royal material obscures a more complex social reality at the Norman court. This dissertation addresses the compound visual character of Norman Sicilian art and architecture and the complexities of cultural contact in the twelfth-century Mediterranean through a comprehensive examination of the architecture and patronage of Arab-Christian grand vizier to King Roger II, George of Antioch (1081-1151). Taking George’s best-known foundation, the Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, commonly known as the Martorana, as its point of departure, this study questions how and why George and his church deployed a multivisual and multilingual aesthetic.This study provides the first comprehensive analysis of the Martorana, its architecture, decorative program, and reception by its Arab-Christian congregation in nearly thirty years. By integrating for the first time the church’s Islamicizing art and previously untranslated Arabic epigraphy into the investigation of the church, it introduces and critically examines the Martorana’s Arab-Christian dimension within the analysis of its decorative program. It thereby presents a radically different interpretation of the Martorana than prior studies which focused on the church’s Byzantine contexts and Byzantinizing mosaics. This dissertation instead illuminates the previously undocumented Arab-Christian built environment of Norman Sicily. By shifting attention from the royal sphere to the elite, from Norman Sicily’s ruling Latin Christian protagonists to its leading Arab-Christian administrator, what emerges is a new formulation of Norman visual culture. This study thus revisits traditional definitions of the arts of Norman Sicily, arguing that its visual culture was grounded not in royal ideologies but in ethnic identities, networks of consumption, and cross-regional contact. Finally, this project charts the complexities of cultural contact in the Mediterranean during the twelfth century. It places Palermo on an international stage to demonstrate that the art and architecture of the Martorana, and of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily by extension, was as much rooted in local practices, as in the foreign contexts of Byzantium and its environs, the Maghrib, and the Levant. The Martorana thus sits at the center of the global pre-modern world, reflecting a broad network of patronage, production, and consumption that crisscrossed the Mediterranean basin.

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