Kristen Streahle, winner of a 2014 IAS Travel Grant for Emerging Scholars, used her award to travel to the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, where she presented her paper, “TABIMUROLLI MUIDEM REP:“ Pseudo-Kufic, Retrograde Latin, and the Crusades Remembered on the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri Ceiling.” The richly painted wooden ceiling that adorns the Great Hall of the palace is replete with scenes of epic narratives as well as decorative patterns and inscriptions. Streahle focused on the use of retrograde Latin, enigmatic phrases, and pseudo-Arabic inscriptions, considering the phenomenon by which these and other texts on the ceiling– both real and imaginary—straddled the boundary between magic and prayer. Situating the inscriptions within the context of Sicilian material culture, she argues that the Arabic is not meant to be “exotic” or “islamicizing,” but speaks to a long engagement with architecture, amulets, and paintings that used and manipulated Arabic in Sicily for devotional and apotropaic purposes.

The ceiling was painted between 1377 and 1380 by Simone di Corleone, Cecco di Naro, and Pellegrino Darena da Palermo for Manfredi III Chiaramonte.

Since giving her paper at Kalamazoo, Streahle has revised and refined several arguments, which will be published in a special issue  of the Journal of Transcultural Medieval Studies in 2016. A PhD candidate in art history at Cornell University, Streahle is currently a pre-doctoral research fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz-Max-Planck-Institut, where she will be in residence through 2018. Among her projects will be the completion of her dissertation, “Crafting Nobility in Trecento Sicily: The Painted Ceiling of the Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri.”

The opportunity to compete for travel grants is just one of many benefits available to members of the Italian Art Society. Join us today!  Visit our website for more information on IAS Travel Grants, including a new grant for scholars working on modern and contemporary Italian art and the IAS/Kress Foundation International Conference Grant (deadline 15 February 2016). The competition for 2017 Emerging Scholar Travel Grants will go out in summer 2016.

Streahle testing a pneumatic rock drill at the Sede di Sculpture, Accademia di Belle Arti, Carrara, Italy, 12 October 2015. Photo: Lisa Jordan

A detail of the bracket reading amamamam | marmamamar. Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri Ceiling, Palermo, 1377-80. Photo: Kristen Streahle.

Detail from the Romance of Elena of Narbonne. Guarniero conspires with Elena’s maid to acquire some of her personal belongings to “prove” her infidelity, on the bottom face of the beam, Holofernes welcomes and dines with Judith. On the far right, we see Judith wielding a sword tipped with Holofernes’s head, encouraging her city to defend Bethulia. Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri Ceiling, Palermo, 1377-80. Photo: Kristen Streahle.

A dedicatory inscription painted on thin planks begins on the northeast wall and finishes with a brief note of the date of completion on the southwest wall. While most brackets display the names of illustrious families, the second bracket from the left features a string of repetitive syllables: amamamam on one side and marmamamar on the other. Here we see three coffers featuring pseudo-Arabic, one of which shares space with the signature of Master Simone of Corleone (Mastru Simoni pinturi di Curiglu). Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri Ceiling, Palermo, 1377-80. Photo: Kristen Streahle.

Detail from the tale of Susanna and the Elders in which the townspeople are shown waiting and prepared to stone Susanna, while Daniel cross-examines the Elders. Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri Ceiling, Palermo, 1377-80. Photo: Kristen Streahle.

Posted by Anne Leader

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