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Title:The architecture of the church of SS. Pietro e Paolo d'Agro, Sicily
Author(s):Nicklies, Charles Edward
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Ousterhout, Robert G.
Department / Program:Art History
Discipline:Art History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Art History
Abstract:The church of SS. Pietro e Paolo d'Agro, Sicily, located some fifty kilometers south of Messina, constitutes one of the most sophisticated and coherent works of architecture to emerge from the Norman rule of the island. Constructed as part of a Basilian monastery, the church is modest in scale with attenuated proportions, measuring approximately 11 meters in width, 20 meters in length, and 17 meters in height from the floor to the crest of the major dome. Although the building was clearly constructed in the twelfth century, a precise date has not been established.
An analysis of the building's planning, structural solutions, and decorative features reveals not only the richness of the design but also a mixed architectural heritage, attributable to Sicily's heterogeneous population, comprised of Muslims, Byzantines, and Normans. The exterior volumes at Agro assume a rather block-like massing, similar to the Islamic architecture of North Africa; however, the facades are decorated with a diversity of materials and patterns, reflecting a wide variety of influences. Similarly, the interior space exhibits remarkable diversity. The simplicity of a three-aisled basilican plan is modified by the interjection of two tall domes along the building's central axis--one positioned over the central bay of the nave, the other placed above the sanctuary. This arrangement of domes corresponds to several Middle Byzantine church plans. The interior also demonstrates some ambiguity in detailing. The structural logic of Gothic architecture may be seen in the use of pointed arches and skeletal ribbing, but this has been mixed with features that attempt to visually dematerialize the structure, such as honeycomb vaulting below the two domes. In the final analysis, the success of SS. Pietro e Paolo emanates from its unified synthesis of these diverse features. This unity of design was unparalleled in Norman-Sicilian architecture.
However, the church is also of extreme importance because of the survival of several unique features and details. For instance, the handling of several specific feature of SS. Pietro e Paolo--and in particular the muqarnas vaulting--may reflect an indigenous tradition of building that have otherwise vanished. In this regard, the muqarnas of Agro assumes a significance that reaches beyond Sicily, and into development of the Muslim architecture of the West.
In many ways, SS. Pietro e Paolo marks the climax of the architectural achievement in Sicily under the Normans, and the relationship of the church to Western, Byzantine, and Islamic constructions of the twelfth century may also augment the study of each of these areas. Moreover, the eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the expanded contact between the West and the Orient. The church of SS. Pietro e Paolo epitomizes this cultural interaction, truly characterizing a medieval, Mediterranean architecture.
Issue Date:1992
Rights Information:Copyright 1992 Nicklies, Charles Edward
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9215860
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9215860

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