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Palermo Cathedral
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Palermo Cathedral
Work Type
Church; photographs
black and white photography
18.8 x 24.9 cm
According to tradition the site of the present cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was successively occupied by a cemetery chapel, a 4th-century basilica, which was destroyed by the Vandals, a 6th-century basilica, which the Arabs transformed into a mosque (9th century) and was reconsecrated by the Normans (after 1072), and finally by the present cathedral, which was founded in the late 12th century by Bishop Gualtiero Offamilio. As at Monreale cathedral, Palermo Cathedral fuses the Latin basilican plan with the centralized Byzantine one. The aisled nave had ten bays and a transept that opened directly to the presbytery, which had three apses, each of them preceded by a straight bay. The wooden-roofed nave had pointed arches resting on groups of four columns beneath a single abacus. The passage through the thickness of the upper wall was derived from Cefalù Cathedral (1129), but at Palermo it continues in the four corner towers. The façades and apses of the building feature an arabesque decoration of intersecting arches, attributed to local craftsmen active in the late 12th century. The four corner towers were completed in the 14th century, and the portal of the west façade is dated 135-1353. In 1426 Antonio Gambara constructed the south portal, with wooden doors (1432) carved by Francesco Miranda. This is framed by the great south porch in the Catalan-Gothic style (1453); the column on the left bears an inscription from the Koran and is probably preserved from the earlier mosque. From the 15th century onwards numerous chapels were created along the aisles by aristocrats and various associations. Among the low reliefs and statues interspersed throughout the interior are several that belong to the ensemble of sculptures originally carved for the choir (1507–74; destr. 1781–1801) by members of the Gagini family. Between 1781 and 1802 the interior was remade by ferdinando Fuga. The nave was transformed into a space of the late classical Baroque type with barrel vaults and lunettes. A new transept was inserted west of the old one, with a dome on a tall drum over the crossing; this reduced the nave to eight bays. The Gagini sculptures in the choir were dismantled, and six royal tombs of the Hohenstaufen dynasty (1194–1266) were moved from the choir to the south-west chapel. Despite these sweeping changes, the original dimensions of the 12th-century cathedral survive, together with most of the outer wall, substantial stretches of the superstructure and the stone facings.Grove Dictionary of Art.
Washington University (Saint Louis, Mo.) Art & Architecture Library
Volume 01: Africa/Sicily Page 31
Variant Title
Santa Maria Assunta
Image Materials/Technique
albumen paper
on album page, lower left, in black ink: Palermo [erased:] The Cathedral
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Permission to use, copy and distribute is hereby granted for non-commercial and education purposes only, following fair use guidelines
Permission to use, copy and distribute is hereby granted for non-commercial and education purposes only, following fair use guidelines
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