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Arabic Script on Christian Kings

Textile Inscriptions on Royal Garments from Norman Sicily

Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
2018 ICMA Book Prize
Isabelle Dolezalek is the recipient of the 2018 ICMA Annual Book Prize.

Roger II’s famous mantle and other royal garments from twelfth- and thirteenth-century Sicily prominently display Arabic inscriptions. While the phenomenon is highly unusual in the context of Latin Christian kingship, the use of inscriptions as a textile ornament was common and imbued with political functions in the Islamic courts of the medieval Mediterranean. This case study of the inscribed garments from Norman Sicily draws attention to the diverse functions of Arabic textile inscriptions using various contextual frames. Such a contextual approach not only highlights the specificities of the Norman textile inscriptions and emphasises the practical and political choices underlying their use at the Sicilian court, it also pinpoints the flaws of universalising approaches to transcultural ornamental in circulation in the medieval Mediterranean. This new perspective on the royal garments from Norman Sicily draws from a variety of disciplines, including Islamic and European art history, the history of textiles, epigraphy, legal history and historiography, and aims to challenge established notions of cultural and disciplinary boundaries.

  • A new assessment of the functions and reception of transcultural ornaments in the Mediterranean region

  • Interdisciplinary approach drawing from methods and objects of Islamic and European art history and related disciplines


"[...] Isabelle Dolezalek fügt ein gut aufbereitetes Korpus arabischer Inschriften des normannischen Sizilien sorgfältig zusammen und bindet es in unterschiedliche "nationale" und disziplinäre Forschungstraditionen ein. Die daraus resultierenden, gedankenreichen Analysen werden Diskussionen über inschriftliche Praxis und herrschaftliche Repräsentation im mittelalterlichen Mediterraneum anregen."
Theresa Jäckh in: H-Soz-Kult 18.10.2017

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Audience: Art Historians, Medievalists, Cultural Historians, Researchers (Mediterranean Studies, History of Textiles)