The Kingdom of Sicily Image Database


 The Kingdom of Sicily Image Database was created to collect and catalogue historical images (photographs, drawings, maps, paintings…) that document the monuments of South Italy (roughly 1130-1420). The database documents an important patrimony that has been dramatically transformed over the centuries. It changed our ability to perceive the buildings, cities, and decorative components of the past, and also to reconstruct the visual and symbolic role of these monuments. The taste for the Baroque led to the reconstruction of innumerable medieval buildings, and the liturgical directives of the Council of Trent transformed the interiors of churches. Civic and religious institutions have been made into prisons, administrative offices, schools and hospitals. Urban expansion and renewal (including recent property speculation, which has been disastrous in some cities, such as Naples), natural disasters (the eruption of Etna in 1693 that changed the entire coastline around Catania, for example) transfomed the monumnets and the landscape. Bombardment in World War II demolished entire towns and badly damaged cities (Palermo, Naples, Troina, Messina).

Our goals have been to provide evidence for the reconstruction of the appearance of monuments prior to destruction, as well as to document the process of their rediscovery by scholars and travellers in the 18th and 21th centuries. The study of this geographic area had a significant impact on both the History of Art History (for instance, the plates published in Henry Gally Knight’s The Normans in Sicily [1838] contributed to the study of the origins of the pointed arch in Medieval architecture) and on architectural practice (the diffusion of the so-called Gothic Revival in the 18th and 20th centuries).

The images that we are cataloguing are today dispersed in numerous collections in Europe and in the USA and are for the most part unknown and unpublished.  They were produced not only as a visual record of travel (especially during the Grand Tour) but also as practical exercises in professional training (for example the architects and designers who gathered ideas from South Italian monuments), or as documentation for scholarly research.

The database was initiated in 2011 by Caroline Bruzelius (Duke University, NC), William Tronzo (University of San Diego, California) and Paola Vitolo (University of Catania, Italy) with 3-year funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and involved a group of collaborators at different stages of careeer. The project has also been supported by the Bibliotheca Hertziana in Rome (Max-Plank Institute for the History of Art) which offered office and meeting space for the project.

The database was published online in October 2016 as open-access resource and will function on a variety of research and pedagogical levels.

It was developed with VRA Core and Dublin Core metadata guidelines and based at Duke University, is searchable by site, monuments title, artist’s name, and collection. It follows the cataloging guidelines created for SAHARA, a project developed by the Society of Architectural Historians. It is designed as an expandable resource that can be continuously added to, enlarged and improved as new resources, collections, as well as new types of scholarship, emerge.

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