ARCHITECTURE | The Gothic in Sicily, the affirmation of a new style

Between the 13th and 15th centuries Sicily experienced a long period of political instability, during which numerous sovereigns reigned, including the Hohenstaufen of Swabia (1198-1266), the Angevins (1266-1282), the Aragonese (until 1516) and the Spanish (until 1713). They shared a welcoming spirit in a remote land, creating masterpieces which were disregarded in the rest of the peninsula. This is how the Gothic style developed in Sicily.

The military buildings of the Hohenstaufen family

Under the domination of Henry VI (1194-1197) and, above all, of Frederick II, whose reign lasted even longer (1198-1250), the numerous religious buildings and palaces inherited from the Normans were preserved. These rulers marked their era with the construction of strongholds, designed by architects from northern Europe: Gothic style arrived in Sicily in the 13th century in the form of fortified architecture.

The castles of Syracuse (Castello Maniace), Catania (Castello Ursino) and Augusta date back to this period, as do the fortifications of Enna’s castle, the strategic centre of the island, occupied since the Byzantine era, of which eight imposing towers remain. These buildings were characterised by a strongly geometrical plan (square structure with angular or median towers), portals or pointed arch windows, bare and austere walls, dominated by slits and merlons; finally, there were also rooms with ogival vaults.

The 14th century and the chiaramontano style

An important contribution to the development of Gothic architecture in Sicily was made by the Chiaramonte family. Powerful Sicilian lords for almost the whole fourteenth century, they established themselves thanks to the weakening of royal power. They also demonstrated their influence through the numerous constructions of civil and religious buildings; on these, they imposed as their artistic seal, which later became the family mark, the zigzag moulding, applied to portals, columns and mullioned windows, borrowed from the Arabs and adopted by the Normans.

From the second half of the 13th century, when the Sicilian population of Arab origin converted to Christianity, the Arab architectural influence in the construction of religious buildings and civil dwellings disappeared. The decorative zigzag motifs, imported from the East to Sicily, were applied by the Normans in many buildings: in Palermo, in the columns of the Palatine Chapel of the Palazzo dei Normanni, in the mullioned windows of the Monastery of San Salvatore in Cefalù and in the upper façade of the Cathedral.

In Agrigento and in several centres of the same province, this style, called “chiaramontano”, had a greater presence than other Sicilian sites; this is because the state owned city of Girgenti, for a certain period, was under the direct jurisdiction of the Chiaramonte family, who made it the artistic peak of 14th century architecture.

Among the buildings included in the so-called “chiaramontano style” Palazzo Chiaramonte is worth of special mention. It is called “lo Steri” and it is located in Piazza Marina in Palermo. It was the residence of an important Sicilian family; also worthy of notice is its façade of refined beauty, crowned by slits and decorated only with splendid windows with pointed arches. On the inside, there are various rooms and chapels with ogival vaults, a large room and ceilings with frescoes, recalling biblical and chivalrous scenes, attributed to the three Sicilian painters Simone da Corleone, Cecco di Naro and Darenu da Palermo.

All the subsequent urban palaces were built on the basis of these examples, characterised by mullioned and three-light windows, surmounted by drain arches both openworked and decorated with polychrome geometric motifs.

Gothic-Catalan art of the XV century

Catalan Gothic art developed in Sicily following the Spanish domination of the island from the end of the 14th century with the reign of the Aragonese. This development, clearly behind other European countries, was endorsed by the Catalan-Aragonese confederation, which became one of the greatest powers in the Mediterranean from the 13th century onwards. At the behest of the confederation, interest in a relatively sober Gothic style spread on the island, characterised by refined figures, a sense of proportion, breadth of form and large windows, open onto smooth, bare façades.

To this period belong the palaces Santo Stefano and Corvaja, in Taormina, the portal of the Cathedral of Palermo and the Bellomo palace in Syracuse. It seems useful to mention the artist Matteo Carnelivari, who, towards the end of the 15th century, designed the plans for the Abatellis, Aiutami Cristo palaces and, probably, also those of the Church of Santa Maria della Catena, in Palermo. These are the most representative creations of Gothic-Catalan art, characterized by Byzantine, Arab and Norman elements deriving from the most ancient local tradition.

Tradotto da: https://archeome.it/architettura-il-gotico-in-sicilia-laffermazione-di-un-nuovo-stile/