Gli avori 'amalfitani' / 'salernitani' e l'arte nel Mediterraneo medievale

Seminario internazionale

A co-operation between the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore), the Università di Salerno, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut

Herbert L. Kessler, Francesca Dell'Acqua, Avinoam Shalem, Gerhard Wolf

During the second half of the twentieth century the field of medieval art-history was mainly dominated by the concept that Byzantium had been the leading production-center in the Mediterranean, offering "superior exempla", understood largely in terms of strong ties to the classical past. Although some attention was paid to individual monuments in areas other than the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, the role of Southern Italy, among other centers, was not sufficiently recognized.

A detailed, multifaceted, interdisciplinary analysis of the extraordinary eleventh-twelfth century, the 'Salerno ivories', the largest ivory ensemble preserved from the Middle Ages, (mostly Salerno, Museo Diocesano), still needs to be accomplished. Combining Islamic, Byzantine, Egyptian, and Latin features, the ivories were outstanding within the most precious furnishings of the late-eleventh-century cathedral in Salerno, the mainland capital of the Norman kingdom of Southern Italy, which sheltered the body of the evangelist Matthew, and which sported Byzantine bronze doors, mosaics, magnificent 'opus sectile' floors and pulpits in line with those of royal Norman churches of Sicily. Despite significant progress in regards to these ivories, as demonstrated by the catalogue of the recent exhibition 'L'enigma degli avori medievali da Amalfi a Salerno' (Salerno, Museo Diocesano, December 2007 - April 2008), most of the questions regarding them still remain unresolved. In fact, they have never been studied by a group of scholars with different backgrounds and perspectives on medieval art, as well as scientists, as this project intends to promote. Beginning with the fundamental issue of dating, which we hope to resolve in part through scientific examination (thanks to the collaboration of museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC), the project will examine such important issues, as patronage (opening up the possibility of the involvement of the Norman rulers of Southern Italy); the place of their production; their original function; their artistic relationship with the arts of arts of the early Medieval West, of Spain, Egypt, the Holy Land, Sicily, Montecassino, and Rome, the influence of older iconographic models combined with aspects of an innovative imagery, such technical features as polychromy detected by scientific analysis, their peculiar process of carving, and their reception in the Norman capital of Salerno. All these questions lie at the very heart of the problem of 'Mediterranean art' at a time of intense commercial and cultural exchanges. A multifaceted analysis of this ivory ensemble can decidedly help in understanding other coeval artifacts of complex cultural identity, prestigious as well as ordinary objects, like the oliphants with Islamic, Byzantine and western accents; the sculpture of Southern Italy and the Crusaders' domains in the Eastern Mediterranean; the serial metal objects from the loca sancta of the Mediterranean; the glass beakers with Christian iconography produced in the islamized Syria, etc.

Centro di Cultura e Storia Amalfitana
Supportico S. Andrea, 3
84011 Amalfi (SA)

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