Stones of Palermo

Roundtable, Summer Schools, Palermo - Palazzo Butera


Palermo - Palazzo Butera
Roundtable, Summer Schools


The event will be held in English at Palazzo Butera, via Butera 8 Palermo.
Free entry, register here.

Stones of Palermo: Cultures of Marble at the Mediterranean Crossroads

Sicily’s «entrails», writes the eighteenth-century Palermitan canon Antonino Mongitore, are «rich with mines of porphyry, jasper and the most valuable stones». This material wealth and its architectural and decorative applications have, at a crossroads of Mediterranean artistic and artisanal traditions, made an indelible contribution to the artistic and cultural identity of the city of Palermo. From imperial splendour to Byzantine refinement, from Siculo-Norman geometric intricacies to lavish baroque intarsia, from revivalist reinterpretations to a severe rationalist or indeed fascist rhetoric, the use of marble has formed a persistent cultural factor in the city. Beyond the whiteness and ideals of purity that have accompanied the artistic fortune of Carrara marble, the rich polychromatic qualities of Sicilian marbles and decorative stones tell another story, a story of contaminations and exchanges, of technical and cultural transfers.

The concluding roundtable discussion will be the closing event of the summer school Stones of Palermo: Cultures of Marble at the Mediterranean Crossroads. After a dense week of on site visits, collaborative work and discussion, the event will provide the opportunity to reflect on the presence of marble and decorative stones in the city of Palermo and share the participants’ findings and remaining questions with the larger public. Thereby we hope to touch upon the complex tensions between the construction of a local artistic and cultural identity, the processes of negotiation at the crossroads of various cultural traditions, and the city’s embeddedness in both a larger local and global ecology. 

The discussion will be led by Dr. Ariane Varela Braga (UZH). Discussants include Prof. Katrin Albrecht (OST–Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences), Prof. Joris van Gastel (UZH), Nora GuggenbĂŒhler (UZH), and Dr. Ruggero Longo (Bibliotheca Hertziana/IMT Lucca).

Organized by the University of Zurich.

Joris van Gastel (University of Zurich) studied Psychology and Art history at the VU University Amsterdam and the UniversitĂ  Ca’ Foscari, Venice. Between 2006 and 2011 he was part of the interdisciplinary research project Art, Agency and Living Presence in Early Modern Italy, based at Leiden University, in the context of which he wrote his PhD thesis Il Marmo Spirante: Sculpture and Experience in Seventeenth-Century Rome. In addition to shorter fellowships in Florence, Rome, Ferrara and Berlin he was research fellow at the Kolleg-Forschergruppe ‘Bildakt und Verkörperung’ (Humboldt University, Berlin; 2011–2012), at the University of Warwick (2013) and was part of the research group ‘Images of Nature’, based at Hamburg University (2014–2016). Before coming to Zurich, he was postdoctoral assistant at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome (2016–2018). Currently, he is working on a project on artistic materials and techniques in baroque Naples.

Ariane Varela Braga (University of Zurich) studied at the University of Geneva and received her PhD in Art history at the University of NeuchĂątel (2013, summa cum laude), with her dissertation on Owen Jones’s Grammar of Ornament (published in 2017 by Campisano Editore). Between 2014 and 2019 she worked as a post-doc assistant at the University of Zurich in the SNSF project Muderajismo and Moorish Revival and was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Geneva in 2019-2020. In Spring 2022, she was visiting professor at the UniversitĂ  degli studi di Milano. A scholarly member of Istituto Svizzero in Rome (2008-2011), she has received grants and fellowships from the SNSF, the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome, the Fondation Gandur pour l’art and the INHA-Institut National pour l’histoire de l’art, Paris. She is currently working on her second book project on Orientalist architecture and material culture in 19th-20th century Italy.

Katrin Albrecht (OST–Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences), is an architect and professor of architectural history and theory at the Architektur-Werkstatt St. Gallen (OST University of Applied Sciences) since 2017, she studied architecture at ETH Zurich. She completed her PhD in 2014 with a thesis on the architectural work and professional activity of Angiolo Mazzoni, followed by research projects on manuals of modern urban planning from the 1870s to the 1950s and on the Ticino architect Flora Ruchat-Roncati. Her current research focuses on work-related housing and urban development in Eastern Switzerland in the context of industrialisation, forms of representation and perception of space and morphological structures, Italian architecture and European history of urban planning of the 19th and 20th century.

Nora GuggenbĂŒhler (University of Zurich) studied Art history and German linguistics and literature at the University of Zurich. During her studies, she was a student assistant at the Chair of Modern art history at the University of Zurich and research assistant at the SNSF edition project Heinrich Wölfflin: Gesammelte Werke led by Prof. Dr. Oskar BĂ€tschmann and Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen. In her master’s thesis Der Körper der Katakombenheiligen (2018), she examined the visual and liturgical staging of reliquary bodies in Switzerland during the Counter-Reformation. During the autumn semester 2019, she was teaching as an external lecturer at the University of Zurich. Her dissertation project explores the distribution of copies of miraculous Marian images within the Spanish Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Taking different types of Madonnas as a vantage point, global interconnections of cult topographies are analyzed.

Ruggero Longo (Bibliotheca Hertziana/IMT Lucca) is Medieval Art History Assistant Professor (RTD-A) at IMT School for Advanced Studies, Lucca. His research deals with the relationships between texts and images within the creation and spreading of ornamental patterns in the Medieval Mediterranean visual language and aesthetics. His interest focuses also on Norman art and architecture in Sicily, mosaics and marble decorations, aniconic art and ornament in the medieval Mediterranean. He is also specialized in archaeometry and diagnostic systems for cultural heritage. In 2012 he was awarded the Aga-Khan post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University for research on Marble decorations of Mamluk Cairo. Since 2018, he is team member of the research project Petrifying Power: The Uses of hard-stone Spolia in Norman Sicily (11th – 13th centuries), based at the Khalili Research Centre, Oxford University and sponsored by Gerda Henkel Stiftung and John Fell Fund, Oxford. Between 2009 and 2015 he has worked on the UNESCO nomination of Arab-Norman Palermo and the cathedrals of CefalĂč and Monreale (included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015).