The Mantle of Roger II of Sicily

  • William Tronzo
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The subject of this chapter is one of the most extraordinary examples of the textile art to have come down to us from the entire Middle Ages, the Mantle of Roger II now in the Treasury of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (Figure 10.1).2 The mantle is a half circle of scarlet samite, 345 cm wide and 146 cm long, encrusted with enamels, pearls, and gems, and it displays, in gold and silk embroidery, a figure that is spectacular in its boldness and simplicity: the doubled image of a lion, triumphant over the camel he holds tightly in his grip, to either side of a palm tree that spreads outward from the center. What might have been analogous to the mantle in a certain sense is the contemporary garb of the Byzantine emperor: an anonymous ekphracist of the twelfth century tells us that Manuel I Komnenos wore a robe decorated with addorsed griffins.3 But nothing quite like it has survived from Byzantium, nor is anything similar attested in the Latin West.4


Palm Tree Twelfth Century Metropolitan Museum Exhibition Catalogue Holy Roman Emperor 
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  1. 2.
    Erwin Margulies, “Le Manteau impérial du Trésor de Vienne et sa doublure,” Gazette des Beaux Arts ser. 6, 9 (1933), pp. 360ff.; Ugo Monneret de Villard, “Le tessitura palermitana sotto i normanni e i suoi rapporti con larte bizantina,” Miscellanea Giovanni Mercati, 1 (Vatican City, 1946), pp. 464ff.; Hermann Fillitz, Die Insignien und Kleinodien des Heiligen Römischen Reiches (Vienna: A. Scholl, 1954), pp. 23ff, 57f.; Filippo Pottino, “Le vesti regali normanne dette dellincoronazione,” Atti del convegno internazionale di studi ruggeriani, 21–25 aprile 1954, 1 (Palermo, 1955), pp. 291ff.; Josef Deér, The Dynastic Porphyry Tombs of the Norman Period in Sicily (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 40ff.; Tarif Al Samman, “Arabische Inschriften auf den Krönungsgewandern des Heiligen Römischen Reiches,” Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien 78 (1982), pp. 7ff.; Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna. The Secular and Ecclesiastical Treasuries: Illustrated Guide (Vienna: Residenz Verlag, 1991), pp. 136ff; David Jacoby, “Silk in Western Byzantium Before the Fourth Crusade,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 84/85 (1991/92), pp. 464ff; Rotraud Bauer, “Il manto di Ruggero II,” I normanni, popolo d’Europa 1030–1200 (exhibition catalogue), ed. Mario D’Onofrio (Venice: Marsilio Editori, 1994), pp. 279ff.; William Tronzo, The Cultures of His Kingdom. Roger II and the Cappella Palatina in Palermo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 142ff; Oleg Grabar, “The So-Called Mantle of Roger II,” in “The Experience of Islamic Art,” forthcoming. I am grateful to Professor Grabar for allowing me to read his paper before publication.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
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    Romuald of Salerno, Chronicon, in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, ed. Ludovico Antonio Muratori 7 (repr. of 1725 ed., Bologna: Arnaldo Forni Editore, 1977), p. 194. For the poetic description of the Favara by ‘Abd ar-Rahman of Trapani, see Gli arabi in Italia, ed. Francesco Gabrieli and Umberto Scerrato (Milan: Garzanti, 1993), p. 738 (Italian trans.).Google Scholar
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    Otto Demus, The Mosaics of Norman Sicily (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1949), Figures 26B–28A, 94A–97B.Google Scholar
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    Lucia Travaini, “Aspects of the Sicilian Norman Copper Coinage in the Twelfth Century,” Numismatic Chronicle 151 (1991), pp. 159–74, pl. 26, no. 2.Google Scholar
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    Philip Grierson, “Guglielmo II o Ruggero II? Una attribuzione errata,” Rivista italiana di numismatica e scienze affini 91 (1989), pp. 195–204.Google Scholar
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    See Deér (above, n. 2), pp. 66ff., and the study of Willy Hartner and Richard Ettinghausen, “The Conquering Lion, The Life Cycle of a Symbol,” Orlens 17 (1964), pp. 161 ff., esp. pp. 164ff.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
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    The royal garden, of course, had a long history in the Mediterranean world, against the backdrop of which the Norman phenomenon might be viewed with profit; to cite only one of many studies, see, for example, Elizabeth B. Moynihan, Paradise as a Garden in Persia and Mughal India (New York: George Braziller, 1979), pp. 5ff.Google Scholar
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© Stewart Gordon 2001

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  • William Tronzo

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