The outstanding baroque monuments in Palermo, those not to be missed, are to be found in the interiors of churches and oratories. In the churches, work with inlaid and coloured marble was taken to a fine art, representing some of the most important and original creations of baroque art on the island. The finest interiors are those in the churches of San Giuseppe dei Teatini, the Casa Professa, Santa Caterina and the Immacolata Concezione. In the three oratories decorated by Giacomo Serpotta, the use of stucco to portray life-size and smaller human figures represents one of the artistic highlights of Palermo. These are the oratories of Santa Cita, San Lorenzo and San Domenico.
The Serpotta family, in particular Giacomo and his son Procopio, represented the peak of the local tradition in sculpture. Working in stucco, Giacomo developed a distinctive style of natural, richly decorated figures. Less expensive and lighter than marble, stucco enabled a profusion of figures to be displayed on chapel walls and ceilings. A high degree of skill and dexterity was needed, for stucco dried quickly, leaving only a short time to complete the modelling. A shine was given to the surface of the Serpotta statues by the addition of marble dust to the stucco.
(See separate article, Serpotta and the Oratory of San Lorenzo).
Baroque was much more than a design style for churches and palaces. It embraced the concept of the city as theatre, a place for people to gather and to take part in great ceremonies and festivals. The baroque style with its flamboyant decoration was applied to the city’s open spaces, its streets and squares, as well as to the façades of its buildings, to be enjoyed by just walking around.