Saracenic and Norman Remains in Sicily

Henry Gally Knight. Saracenic and Norman Remains, to illustrate the Normans in Sicily, by Henry Gally Knight, esq. London: J. Murray, 1840.

For reasons unknown to me, I wanted to share a work of Norman Sicily today from the collections. Perhaps I am missing Italy and the Normans. I remembered a folio of antiquarian photographs on the architecture of Norman Sicily in my graduate library; however, the author and title are now unknown to me.  I hoped to stumble across the work in Special Collections here. I could have searched the catalog for Normans and Sicily, of course; however, I do love the serendipity of the find that library shelves afford. While looking for my intended folio, I happened across a couple of works that will be future entries and I found the work of Henry Gally Knight, which was unknown to me prior.

Henry Gally Knight (1786-1846) traveled to Normandy and Italy in the 1830s to document the architectural remains of the Normans. His travels resulted in several publications: An Architectural Tour in Normandy (1836); Saracenic and Norman Remains (1840); and The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy (1842-1844). On his trip to Sicily, he was accompanied by the architect, George Moore, who was responsible for the plates in this work (W.W. Wroth, “Knight, Henry Gally (1786-1846)”).

Saracenic and Norman Remains is light on text; however Knight identifies an important trait about Norman architecture:

It may be said, that Architecture flourished wherever the Normans ruled. In the construction of these buildings the Normans adopted the style, and employed the workmen, of the conquered country, but not without imparting to the fabric a character of their own. (Preface)

His intention for the documentation and publication of the plates of the architecture of Norman Sicily was to provide evidence for the pointed arch. He argues that the pointed arch was a characteristic of the architecture produced by the Normans in Sicily prior to its use in later medieval architecture and a feature adopted from Islamic architecture.  He concludes, “The old hypothesis of the Crusades, as the origin of the introduction of the pointed style in Continental Europe appears, after all, to be entitled to more attention than any other suggestion.” (Preface)  The origin of and the use of the pointed arch in Medieval architecture is of course a rather complex issue and a debate that I do not wish to enter into here.  I hope rather that you take a moment to enjoy the complexity and beauty of the architecture of Norman Sicily, which is often neglected in survey courses.

W. W. Wroth, ‘Knight, Henry Gally (1786–1846)’, rev. Jane Harding, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15721, accessed 20 March 2014]