Palermo works of art

Congratulations to Palermo for adding to the historic works of art on public view. Among recent additions are two of especial interest. The first is an altarpiece by Antonello Gagini, which was rediscovered and restored. Consisting of a decorative marble framework, it originally contained a painting by Raphael known as Lo Spasimo di Sicilia. Ordered by monks of the church of Santa Maria dello Spasimo, the painting was completed around 1516 and, having survived a shipwreck, was delivered to Palermo. It shows the moment when Christ fell under the weight of his cross when his mother suffered a spasm of agony, known as lo spasimo. In the seventeenth century, the painting was taken to Madrid. Today, a reproduction of Raphael’s painting, presented within Gagini’s framework, is on display in its original location at the church of the Spasimo in the Kalsa district of Palermo.

The second concerns an enduring tradition of Palermo, that of its mythical founder the Genius of Palermo. The Genius is an archaic figure who personifies Palermo, linked to the ancient gods, who became an official symbol of the city in the fifteenth century. A striking modern statue of the Genius, by Domenico Pellegrino, has now been unveiled in the Botanic Gardens. Here the Genius appears as a regal figure, complete with crown, sitting upon a rock, holding a huge, colourful serpent to his breast. To one side, a child looks up enquiringly, recalling the putti of Serpotta, while on the other side appears the youthful figure of Santa Rosalia, patron saint of the city. It is a powerful piece that recalls the historic images of the Genius by sculptors such as Domenico Gagini, Pietro de Bonitate and Ignazio Marabitti.

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