“Icons. Tradition/Contemporaneity” in Monreale

Monreale, Sicily (Italy) –  A tribute to the history of art and the Greek-Byzantine tradition on the theme of icons, in dialogue with contemporary works inspired by the iconography of Christ, the Madonna and the Saints. A comparison entrusted to twelve artists (six Sicilians and as many Greeks) who measure themselves with the artistic expression (the icon, in fact) that most represents the greed and mutual influence between the two peoples.

This is the meaning of the great exhibition “ICONE. Tradition/Contemporaneity – The post-Byzantine Icons of north-western Sicily and their contemporary interpretation”, scheduled in the Chapter Hall of San Placido of the Diocesan Museum of Monreale (via Arcivescovado 8), from April 4 to September 4, 2019.  The exhibition, conceived by Francesco Piazza and Vassilis Karampatsas, is organized by the Sicilian Hellenic Community “Trinacria”. Greece is represented by the artists Manolis Anastasakos, Dimitris Ntokos, Nikos Moschos, Kostantinos Papamichalopoulos, Zoi Pappa, Christos Tsimaris, while the Sicilian artists are Giuseppe Bombaci, Sandro Bracchitta, Giorgio Distefano, Roberto Fontana, Antonino Gaeta and Ignazio Schifano.

The starting point of the exhibition is the dialogue between history and contemporaneity, starting from the knowledge of post-Byzantine iconographic-liturgical cultural testimonies in north-western Sicily, and, in particular, the production of sacred images by Venetian-Cretan workers, intended for Catholic communities of Greek rite settled in the territory since the fifteenth century. For many centuries Sicily has been Greece: just think of the remarkable monuments, the famous artistic and scientific personalities that have distinguished our land, where flourished an important, unique, composite aspect of Greek civilization. Sicily has Greek antiquities of the same importance as that of the mother country and has a cultural environment open to the most varied influences of the Mediterranean areas. Without a doubt, the contribution and cultural dialogue between Greece and Sicily, never interrupted over the centuries, has known original channels, solutions always unpublished, brilliant results.

The exhibition aims to highlight this intense and important cultural union between Sicily and Greece, handed down over the centuries especially in its highest component, namely the religious one, even in the delicate moments that marked the history of the Greek and Albanian communities in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, following the diaspora.

Symbols of this relationship and cultural contribution are the icons, which preserve within them a multiplicity and symbolic complexity that transforms them into “treatises on theology”. With great conceptual force, the icons tell a universe that is only at first glance readable and comprehensible, but that slowly reveals itself in a disruptive complexity of symbols and languages. The comparison between Greek and Sicilian artists can bring out both the points of contact, and the different vision or cultural distance between two different ways of understanding sacred art and contemporaneity. If in the twentieth century authors such as Malevič, Klein, Klee are remembered, it is only because their theoretical (and operative) closeness to the universe of icons is evident, with the complexity that passes from the iconic tradition to the attestation of a stratified symbolic sense of figurative art. In them an essential theoretical moment is highlighted; that is, it is not the contents represented that are essential for the genesis of the symbolic, but, on the contrary, the indeterminacy of this content, the theoretical moment, acts as a medium towards the invisible, without however abandoning the aesthetic-sensitive link with reality and its composite forms.

The historical-artistic heritage of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi represents the strong point of the exhibition, which aims at a conceptual reworking of the iconostasis, the wall decorated with icons that separates the nàos from the bèma, the space dedicated to the faithful from that reserved for the liturgy, the “sensitive” part from the “intelligible” part. The exhibition will highlight the relationship between ancient icons and newly produced paintings, which each artist will develop according to their own poetics and stylistic code, keeping intact the original iconography while drawing on their own cultural background, their own experience as a baggage, to tell, in new and current forms, the theme of the sacred, a “new theology”, which welcomes those cultural, ethical and social stimuli that are the subject of a lively debate in the contemporary Church. In order to facilitate the understanding of the contexts and testify to the prevalent purpose of use in the cult of sacred images, the icons will be exhibited alongside a selection of precious liturgical furnishings and antique furnishings from the churches of the Eparchy.

Historically, before the birth of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi (formerly “Piana dei Greci”) in 1937, the towns of Mezzojuso, Contessa Entellina and Palazzo Adriano depended on the Archdiocese of Palermo, while Piana dei Greci and Santa Cristina Gela depended on that of Monreale. The project also aims to focus on the different local contextualizations, schools and iconographers of the seventeenth century, such as Ioannìkios Cornero (or Gornero) da Candia, a painter with exceptional strength and resistance to the iconographic tradition, which in the small town of Mezzojuso began a valuable artistic production post-Byzantine. To him are attributed some icons still existing in the churches of Mezzojuso, Piana degli Albanesi and in the Diocesan Museum of Monreale. Also from the second half of the 17th century, the illustrative panel of a Marian megalynarion hymn of the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil should be highlighted, which unites five distinct iconographic themes: the “Epi soi chairei” (= “In you rejoice”) by the well-known Leo Mòskos, belonging to a family of iconographers known in Venice and in the territories of the Serenissima Republic of Venice. The icons, both those inherited from past generations and those produced in more recent times, testify to a continuity of faith and artistic expression mindful of ancient and original figurative and liturgical traditions. Among the historical icons on display are the “Epì soi chaìrei” (In you rejoice) by Léos Mòskos, preserved in the church of San Nicola di Mira in Mezzojuso, and the two-faced processional cross attributed to the Master of Ravdà at the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, also preserved in Mezzojuso at Santa Maria di tutte le Grazie.

To underline the ties and cultural relations between Sicily and Greece, after the exhibition in Monreale, the exhibition “Icone. Tradition/Contemporaneity” will move to Athens, where it will be set up, thanks to the collaboration between the diplomatic, cultural and tourist promotion institutions of the two States.

The exhibition, promoted by the Sicilian Hellenic Community “Trinacria”, is accompanied by a scientific catalog with essays and cards, and has the collaboration of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi, the Archdiocese of Monreale, the Diocesan Museum of Monreale, the Superintendence of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of Palermo of the Sicilian Region, the University of Palermo – Department of Culture and Society, the National Art Gallery of Greece. Under the patronage of: Embassy of Greece in Rome, Academy of Fine Arts of Palermo, Federation of Hellenic Communities and Brotherhoods in Italy (FCCEI), Hellenic Foundation of Culture Italy, Orestiadi Foundation of Gibellina, Italian Institute of Culture Athens, Italian Institute of Castles. The event is included in the Spring Billboard of the initiative “Tempo Forte Italia-Ελλαδα 2019”.

Exhibition and catalogue curated by Francesco Piazza (Contemporary Art) and Giovanni Travagliato (historical icons).


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