Revealing the Emir's God: the Arabic inscription of the Dome of La Martorana

Title: Revealing the Emir's God: the Arabic inscription of the Dome of La Martorana
Variant title:
  • Odhalení emírova Boha : arabský nápis v kupoli kostela La Martorana (Palermo)
Source document: Convivium. 2018, vol. 5, iss. 1, pp. 50-65
  • ISSN
    2336-3452 (print)
    2336-808X (online)
Type: Article
Summary language
License: Not specified license
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In Palermo's church of St Mary of the Admiral (the Martorana), which was founded by George of Antioch in the early 1140s, a Christian inscription in Arabic painted on wood is imbedded in the dome's mosaic interior. It juxtaposes symbols, utterances, and passages from the liturgy, namely the Epinikion hymn and the Great Doxology, both derived from Greek sources. The lofty tone of the texts matches the majestic images displayed in the shell and drum: the enthroned Christ, the four Archangels serving at the throne, and eight prophets, who acclaim the Lord in scrolls they hold with quotations from the Ancient Testament. Until now, the linkage between the Arabic epigraph and the Greek inscriptions has been underestimated. According to Ernst Kitzinger, the Martorana's dome program is to be interpreted as an abridged version of its counterpart in King Roger II's palace chapel, the Cappella Palatina. The analysis here, however, aims to demonstrate the peculiarities of the Martorana's dome, which display a unique combination of materials, visual devices, and languages. Furthermore, the surviving portion of the Arabic inscription enters the discussion to reveal the text's multiple links with the Prophets' quotations below it and its coherence with the monarchic claim filtering through monumental iconographies and court scenery during the reign of Roger II.