Sicily: Culture and Conquest
21 April – 14 August 2016
Rare objects loaned to the UK for the very first time illuminate life over 4000 years on this incredible island.
A meeting point and battleground of the Mediterranean for many centuries, Sicily's shores were the dramatic setting of many key events in ancient history. Its geographical location made it an important strategic base for battling nations across Europe, while settlers were also attracted to the fertile volcanic lands that surrounded Mount Etna.
The arrival of foreigners brought new ideas, philosophies and practices to the island, giving way to a highly diverse and varied culture that incorporated influences from Greek, Roman, Norman and Arab societies. The British Museum's exhibition focuses on two key periods in Sicilian history: the arrival of the first Greek settlers in the 7th century BC and the rule of Norman king Roger II in 1100AD. These two eras in particular, yielded remarkably rich architectural and artistic offerings.
During the Greek settlement the undemocratically elected rulers – known as tyrants – were quick to impose their will on the indigenous islanders. In a show of wealth and dominance they built colossally-sized Greek temples, containing altar pieces, terracotta ornaments and statues that were either shipped from Greece or made by local sculptors using Greek techniques. Many of these rare and precious artefacts are on display here.
Conversely from the Norman period many centuries year later, a host of Byzantine mosaics, Islamic-inspired architectural decorations and Jewish ceremonial objects reveal the spirit of multiculturalism that flourished under Roger II who embraced peoples of all races and faiths in his court. A wondrous combination of aesthetic styles and artistic techniques from across the continent, these items are entirely unique.
A powerful champion scientific innovation, Roger II brought a period of enlightenment to Sicily. On display is one of the oldest surviving copies of a new world map that he commissioned from Arab cartographer, al-Idrisi, which the king insisted must be based on new factual research.