Ceiling of the Cappella Palatina

Ceiling of the Cappella Palatina

Albumen print of the ceiling of the Cappella Palatina
Palermo, Sicily
Ceiling about 1143; print about 1890–1910
Museum no. 7903-1936

This is one of the best surviving examples of an Islamic ceiling in the Mediterranean, though it crowns a Christian religious space – the royal chapel of the palace in Palermo. This building was created for the Norman king of Sicily, Roger II, and was probably completed in time for his coronation in 1143.

The three-dimensional decoration of the ceiling is formed from small cells of carved wood in a technique known in Arabic as muqarnas . The central structure of the ceiling is a pattern of stars and crosses, and every element is covered with paintings in the Islamic style. These include dancers, musicians, seated drinkers and mounted hunters, and every border carries Arabic inscriptions in Kufic script, containing blessings, in the manner of Islamic decorative arts.

A team of carpenters and painters may have been imported from Cairo to produce this most luxurious royal commission. Ironically, few buildings of this period survive in Egypt itself, so now the 'Arabo-Norman' architecture of Sicily provides important information about the lost Fatimid palace architecture on which it was modelled.