(active 1150s in Palermo)

Narthex (detail)

Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, Palermo

Roger II ruled over Sicily from 1112, when he came of age, to 1156. Calabria and Apulia in southern Italy also came under his control, and he reached the apogee of his power in 1130, when he became the first Norman king of Sicily. His political ambitions extended towards the Byzantine empire in the East, and in 1147 he seized Corfu. Roger's political aspirations are nowhere more explicit than in his mosaic portrait in the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio (known as the Martorana) in Palermo. It shows him dressed in the manner of a Byzantine emperor, being crowned by Christ himself, rather than by Christ's earthly representative, the pope. This was a traditional arrangement of Byzantine imagery. The mosaic not only indicates Roger's relationship with the papacy, as the Church is made subordinate to the state, but also underlines the Norman ruler's aspiration to conquer the Byzantine empire.

The picture shows Christ crowning King Roger II. Roger's portrait is one of two mosaics from the narthex of the Martorana which are specific to this church. The other pictures the donor, George of Antioch, cowering at the feet of the Madonna, who holds a ribbon inscribed in Greek with a prayer for his soul.

The two mosaics are not in their original locations; they probably came from the church's former narthex.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.