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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in Austria
Nobiles Officinae

Box with Ivory Incrustations and Naskhi Inscription Egypt, 12th/13th centuryIvory with wood, black mastix, gilded bronze, 39 x 40 x 23,5 cm Palermo, Treasury of the Cappella PalatinaPhoto courtesy of Kunsthistorisches Museum
Box with Ivory Incrustations and Naskhi Inscription Egypt, 12th/13th century
Ivory with wood, black mastix, gilded bronze, 39 x 40 x 23,5 cm
Palermo, Treasury of the Cappella Palatina
Photo courtesy of Kunsthistorisches Museum
Nobiles Officinae: The Royal Workshops in Palermo during the Reigns of the Norman and Hohenstaufen Kings of Sicily in the 12th and 13th century
VIENNA  •  Kunsthistorisches Museum  •  Ongoing

An exhibition organised by the Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali Caltanissetta and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. Among the world-famous as well as historically and artistically uniquely valuable treasures now housed in the Secular Treasury, the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire are surely the most outstanding and important. The Treasury is almost the only collection in the world to house such a wealth of royal vestments of such outstanding historical importance, age, and beauty as the coronation robes of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. In the Treasury they are displayed in a room by themselves. The inventory recorded at Trifels Castle in the Palatine in 1246 shows that the oldest and most magnificent objects had entered the imperial treasury by the middle of the thirteenth century. However, the most important pieces making up the coronation robes were not made anywhere within the territory of the Holy Roman Empire, and they were not originally intended for the ruler of the Empire.

Two Arab inscriptions document that they were executed by Saracen and Christian textile artists employed in the royal workshops at Palermo. The cloisonné enamel on the golden decorations must be the work of artists trained in Byzantine workshops. In order to find our way through this maze of contradictions, it will be helpful to recall some historical facts. By about 1100, Norman adventurers led by the brothers Hauteville had, with cunning and brute force, conquered a double kingdom consisting of Lower Italy, taken from the Byzantines, and Sicily, until then under Egyptian-Islamic rule. The Pope really had little choice but to invest King Roger II (ruled 1130-1154) with this Norman Kingdom of Sicily. Roger II was the first to introduce an elaborate court etiquette modeled on that of the imperial court at Byzantium, and to support a flowering of the arts by patronising the royal workshops, the Ergasterion (or Nobiles Officinae in Latin). The most magnificent work produced by them is the coronation mantle dated 1133/34, which is decorated with a lenghty Kufi inscription and two symmetrical depictions of a lion triumphing over a camel.

In the Nobiles Officinae, Moslems (Saracens) and both Greek-Orthodox and Roman-Catholic Christians were employed side by side. And just as they should probably all be classed as "local artists", the art produced at the court of the Norman kings of Sicily was able to rise to such uniquely spectacular heights because of this exceptional heterogenous cultural mixture.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Web Site

Contact: Tel: (43) 1 525 240

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