The Cloak of King Roger of Sicily
A masterpiece made in the hizanat at-tiraz, a laboratory that was located next to the Royal Palace. The Fatimid inscription in kufic characters found on the edge of the cloak indicates exactly the city of the realization: Palermo. This cloak together with other precious clothes were taken away from the royal treasure by the new king of the Romans and of Sicily Henry VI Hohenstaufen (Swabian), husband of Costanza d'Altavilla and father of Federico II after that in 1194 he received as dowry of his wife Costanza the Norman kingdom. All the treasure was brought from Sicily to Germany and since then it is still kept there in Vienna in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Shatzkammer.
The cloak is an embroidery masterpiece in silk, gold, pearls, precious and semiprecious stones. It has a semicircular shape 345 cm long and 146 cm high and is adorned with a thin palm tree which symbolizes the tree of life which divides the cloak into two equal parts in which there are a lion and a camel. The lions have a straight head, an arched chest and a moving tail triumphantly on a camel with bridles and gualdrappas that characterize a domesticated animal. The embroideries are in gold thread on chermés red silk and a double row of small river pearls follow the contours of the figures and some parts of the internal design. The mustache and claws had to be embroidered in dark silk, now lost. The front edge is embroidered with strings of pearls that frame palmettes and diamond shapes in gold and enamel, one has a rabbit.
The decoration is an ancient oriental motif particularly loved and widespread in Palermo: it is found in the mosaic of the floor and ceiling of the Palatine Chapel, in the mosaics of the Zisa, the Martorana and in the Roger Room of the Royal Palace. The lion is a symbol of power that is found in the past up to the ruins of Persepolis and in Sumerian art but the lion that overpowers the camel is really rare, what is the symbolic meaning? If the camel represents the Arabs of Sicily, it could be the recognition of power relations in a non-violent way. When the Normans conquered Sicily they obtained political power but the value of the culture and science of the Arabs was not affected and their religion tolerated. But the meaning could be cosmic: the medallions and rosettes embroidered on the joints and muzzle of the lions correspond roughly to the positions of the stars in the zodiacal sign of the lion on a celestial globe made around 1225 in Egypt and kept in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. These decorations are found on silks made in Syria, Iran and Iraq to testify that the symbolism of the zodiac is a further oriental tradition absorbed by western culture and used for the cloaks of kings.
A round stud in gold and enamel set between precious stones and filigree is sewn over the head of the lions of Ruggero's cloak. Each stud is decorated with two overlapping squares to form an eight-pointed star that encloses a sun. It is a "cosmogram", a much loved decoration in Coptic textile art. The intertwining of the squares is a symbol of the cosmos and to the relationship of the world with the divine, this decorative theme is repeated in the wooden ceiling of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo. The gold and enamel elements were probably made by goldsmiths from Byzantium and in 1980 the names of the embroiderers were found written in Arabic on a strip of linen under the embroidered scapulars: Marzuq, Ali, Mahmud under the guidance of Damyan.
It is the oldest lining and applied along the inner edge in order to be visible when, walking, the cloak opens. Made of silk in bright colors, red, green, blue, lilac yellow ocher, white and black. The decorations have different themes "tree of life", "dragons", "birds". In the published image, stylized trees are seen from whose branches come the heads of dragons that have pointed ears and show their tongues. Under each tree to the right and left there are human figures with long dresses and beside the heads fantastic birds and bizarre rabbits.
The second is of Italian manufacture from the second half of the 14th century, red with flowers.
The third lining is green, coming from the Near East, from the 12th century. It is a silk with iridescent colors, some parts are in gray and light brown. The decorations are vegetal with lotus flowers.
The Cloak of King Roger of Sicily