A general overview of medieval Mediterranean art history will provide the opportunity to become familiar with cultural and artistic interchanges and connections between the Latin West, the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world. Students will also be equipped with basic information on the main materials and techniques used in the decorative arts and ornamentation of the Middle Ages.
The selection of academic texts and articles will provide a critical and historiographical perspective, equipping students with a methodological approach to art historical research and a basic awareness of formal and cultural categories such as figurative and aniconic, mimesis and abstraction, tradition and innovation, cross-cultural exchanges, centres and peripheries, centrality and marginality.
teacher profile | teaching materials


The course aims to provide students with a general background in the visual arts and ornament in the Medieval Mediterranean arena, retracing the main stages of historiography on the subject.
Through selected case studies (Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, San Vitale in Ravenna and the Great Mosque of Cordova, the Palatine Chapel in Palermo and San Lorenzo f.l.m. in Rome), an in-depth study of transcultural relationships between East and West in the 6th-13th centuries and among different visual, ornamental and esthetic languages will be provided.

Core Documentation

Una selezione di capitoli e articoli sarà offerta dai seguenti testi di riferimento:

Ettinghausen, Richard, Grabar Oleg, Islamic art and architecture, 650 – 1250, New Haven [u.a.] : Yale University Press, 2001

Fobelli, Maria Luigia, Un tempio per Giustiniano : Santa Sofia di Costantinopoli e la Descrizione di Paolo Silenziario, Roma : Viella, 2005

Gardner's Art through the Ages: Backpack Edition, Book B: The Middle Ages, by Fred Kleiner
Cengage Learning, Inc, 2015

Gombrich, Ernst H., Art and illusion : a study in the psychology of pictorial representation. New York : Pantheon Books, 1960

Gombrich, Ernst H., The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of Decorative Art, Wien 2002

Grabar, Oleg, The formation of Islamic Art, Yale University Press 1973

Grabar, Oleg, The mediation of Ornament. Princeton Univ. Press 1992

Grabar, André, Les origines de l’esthétique médiévale, Paris : Macula, 1992

Grube, Ernst J., The painted ceilings of the Cappella Palatina,London [u.a.] : Saffron Books [u.a.], 2005

Oleg Grabar, The experience of Islamic Art, in: The experience of Islamic art on the margins of Islam, 2005, 11-59, in part. The so-called mantle of Roger II, 30-48

Grabar, Oleg, “Trade with the east and the influence of Islamic art on the «luxury arts» in the west”, in Il Medio Oriente e l’Occidente nell’arte del XIII secolo, edited by Hans Belting (Bologna: Editrice CLUEB, 1982) 27-32

Hahn, Cynthia J., ed., Seeking transparency : rock crystals across the medieval Mediterranean.
Berlin : Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2020

Hillenbrand, Robert, Islamic art and architecture , London : Thames and Hudson, 1999

Hillenbrand, Robert, Studies in the islamic decorative arts London : Pindar Press, 2019

Jacoby, David, “Silk and silk textiles in Arab and Norman Sicily: the economic context”, Andaloro, Maria. Nobiles Officinae: perle, filigrane e trame di seta dal palazzo reale di Palermo. Catania, Maimone, 2006, 2 vols., vol. 2 pp. 133-143 [with English translation pp. 383-389]

James, Liz, Mosaics in the medieval world : from late antiquity to the fifteenth century.
New York, NY : Cambridge University Press, 2017

Kitzinger, Ernst, Byzantine art in the making : Main lines of stylistic development in mediterranean art, 3rd-7th century. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Univ.Pr., 1977

Johns, Jeremy, “Arabic Inscriptions in the Cappella Palatina: Performativity, Audience, Legibility and Illegibility”, in Eastmond, Antony (ed.), Viewing inscriptions in the Late Antique and Medieval Mediterranean, Cambridge University Press, 2015, pp. 124–147.

Longo, Ruggero, Le decorazioni in opus sectile della Cappella Palatina di Palermo – Nuovi materiali per nuove ricerche, in La Cappella Palatina a Palermo. Storia, arte, funzione, edited by Thomas Dittelbach, Künzelsau, Swiridoff 2011, English version pp. 344-351

Longo, Ruggero, Opus sectile a Palermo nel secolo XII. Sinergie e mutuazioni nei cantieri di Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio e della Cappella Palatina, in Byzantino-Sicula VI: La Sicilia e Bisanzio nei secoli XI e XII. Atti delle X Giornate di Studio della Associazione Italiana di Studi (Palermo, 27-28 Maggio 2011), edited by Renata Lavagnini e Cristina Rognoni, «Quaderni dell’Istituto siciliano di studi bizantini e neoellenici “Bruno Lavagnini”», 18, Palermo 2014, pp. 299-342

Forma e sostanza. Aspetti materiali ed estetici nella concezione dello spazio sacro nel meridione normanno-svevo in (In)materialidad en el arte medieval XIV Jornadas Complutenses de Arte Medieval, 11-12 novembre 2021 Madrid, Facultad de Geografia e Historia, UCM, 2023

Mango, Cyril A., Byzantine architecture, Faber and Faber, London 1978

Mango, Cyril (1986). Art of the Byzantine Empire, 352-1453: Sources and Documents. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

Gulru Necipoglu, The Topkapi scroll : geometry and ornament in Islamic architecture, 1995

Gülru Necipoğlu, The arts of ornamental geometry: a Persian compendium on similar and complementary interlocking figures, Fī tadākhul al-ashkāl al-mutashābiha aw al-mutawāfiqa (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Ms. Persan 169, fols. 180r-199r) : a volume commemorating Alpay Özdural, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2017

Panofsky, Erwin, Meaning in the visual arts : papers in and on art history, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1955

Shapiro, The languages of forms. Lectures on insular manuscript art, New York 2005

Trilling, James, The language of ornament, Thames & Hudson, New York 2001

Oxford Dictionary s.v. ornament and patterns

Rosser-Owen, Mariam, Islamic Art from Span, Vicoria and Albert Museum, London 2010

Rice, David Talbot, Art of the Byzantine era , London : Thames and Hudson, 1963

Tronzo, William, The cultures of his kingdom: Roger II and the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, Princeton University Press, 1997

Type of delivery of the course


Type of evaluation

Oral exam