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Discover Piana degli Albanesi. Prodigies on slate in Piana degli Albanesi.

For our column we have selected a very interesting article that was sent to us by Professor Stefano Schirò on the slate boards that are located in the Odigitria church at the foot of Mount Pizzuta.

We wish you a good reading

Salvatore Vasotti


San Demetrio (particolare)

Among the woods and olive trees of Piana degli Albanesi, like a "Child" in a Duccesca Majesty - however, in the arms of Mount Pizzuta - there is a small church dedicated to the Virgin Odigitria; there, the works of art spread secret scents of incense and mountain flowers: in addition to the canvas by Pietro Antonio Novelli depicting the Odigitria with its beautiful sky-colored mantle, the single nave features four rare oil paintings on slate with saints : Giovanni Crisostomo, Basilio, Giorgio, Demetrius; they clearly tell the devotion of our districts. Walking through the narrow streets of the town, however, it is not difficult to come across small votive chapels that house rather faded iconographies on the same dark support: a "Crucifixion" (in via Giorgio Kastriota), the "Souls of Purgatory" (in via Francesco Crispi), a "Assumption of the Virgin" (?) (In via Padre Giorgio Guzzetta), some other very delicate "Virgin" (in private residences in the historic center).

Piana degli Albanesi
Chiesa dell'Odigitria

The blackboard is a good support, it absorbs little or no oil paint, therefore quite bright colors result. Artists such as Sebastiano del Piombo and Tiziano Vecellio have used the same calcareous-clayey material; I like to remember the tender chromatic accords reached by the first in works such as: the austere Portrait of Clement VII with a beard, (about 1528, oil on blackboard, 50 × 34 cm, Naples, Capodimonte Museum), the faithful Madonna del Velo , (About 1535, oil on slate, 118 × 88 cm, Naples, Museo di Capodimonte) or Christ carrying the cross, (about 1540, oil on slate, 157 × 118 cm, Budapest, Szépmuvészeti Museum), just emerged almost from a tragedy of Euripides.

San Giovanni Crisostomo

Giorgio Vasari in The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550), mentions slate in chapter I, but also in X, where he describes how to paint in oil on stone and which stones are suitable for the purpose, including these indicate precisely the slate. Angela Cerasuolo reiterates again: "The debate on the comparison with sculpture, which identified the greater fragility of painting as an element against the latter, led to the search for more durable supports. At the same time, the dark color of the blackboard, used by Sebastiano directly as a chromatic base without further preparatory layers, was congenial to the rendering of precious atmospheric effects, through that use of harmonious shades and chromatic accords that have always been identified as his distinctive feature "[1 ].

San Giorgio

Returning to Piana's paintings: St. John Chrysostom wears pontifical robes (white and red) within a landscape background, with a graceful homily explained in his hand; San Basilio is also decorated with papal garments (red and brown) against an architectural backdrop and points to something written in a book. Superintendent A. Cuccia [2] describes the stupendous Saint George as follows: «The saint is depicted in the dress of a warrior, with the banner of victory [3], the palm and the symbols of martyrdom. The color scheme denotes a certain liveliness given by the white, the red of the coat and the gray of the armor "; while the irenic Saint Demetrius: "Against a landscape background, the saint, in a warrior's dress and with the banner, is depicted baptizing Nestor [4], the predominant colors are red, white, brown".

San Basilio

In this tetrarchy of Saints, note the vigor of the contour lines, which define the figures as cameos, and their clothing, whether it is a skirt or a phelonion or a boot - almost escaping from a Gianni Versace catwalk - have the same value as the landscape that surrounds them, faith transpires from the saint himself from time to time in question without any hesitation: they are like windows open on the true nature that envelops them, tenderly. The San Giovanni Crisostomo and San Basilio measure 100 × 60 cm, while the other two 128x90cm; they are the knights who defend those sacred shores, that mystical verziere. The analytical perspicuity of the Hellenistic fringes of the skirt stands out, or that of the pastoral bacolo, mentioned in the poem “lusus naturae”, “monstrosity” to be understood as a prodigy! These "my" slates - a sort of illustrated De viris illustribus - distil and distil forever the juices of hagiography, and the eye wanders among those realms of soft colors and rests in some worn epitaph praising female virtues, to land among the ears and on the points of the local stone star - of the coat of arms - symbolizing the homeland. Let me now write about these works described by superintendent A. Cuccia in the seventies as: "eighteenth-century provincial works of the cultural sphere of Palermo", I attribute here to extraordinary "artisans" of Piana degli Albanesi, after all province ”shines like those of the“ non-province ”(sterile labels, art is art, sufficit).

San Demetrio

From these dark plates, these holy iconographies therefore clump together, how can we forget the technique of Byzantine illumination, or perhaps Dante's canticles - in any case it is a leap from the dark pit to that unforgettable and moving "And then we went out to see the stars again. », The light, the color. These blackboards are full of references: gaze at the “Black Square” by Kazimir Severinovič Malevič, or the black paintings by Goya, the bituminous backgrounds by Caravaggio, or the الحجر الأسود or the black stone to remain in the sphere of the sacred. And I, in the presence of such - too forgotten, alas - miracles of art, to which I approach as Franco Zeffirelli did with the frescoes by Giotto and Michelangelo Antonioni with the sculptures of Michelangelo Buonarroti, recite a piece by Sciascia - who wrote on Gattopardo: «… under the ash light, the landscape jolted, irredeemable» [5].


[1] Cfr. A. Cerasuolo, Approfondimenti su Sebastiano del Piombo a Capodimonte, Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History, 81: 4, 2012: 254-261.

[2] Cfr. Schede di catalogo della Soprintendenza per i Beni Artistici e Storici – Palermo, quelle relative a Piana degli Albanesi (chiesa dell’Itria Vecchia) del 1976.

[3] Cfr. il Cristo Risorto affrescato da Pietro Novelli nella cattedrale di San Demetrio di Piana degli Albanesi.

[4] Lo stesso soggetto si riscontra in una scultura di Girolamo Bagnasco e aiuti, conservata nella cattedrale di San Demetrio di Piana degli Albanesi.

[5] Cfr. L. Sciascia, Per un ritratto dello scrittore da giovane, Milano, Adelphi, 2000: 142.

Stefano Schirò, writer, poet originally from Piana degli Albanesi, teaches art history in Catania high schools. Among his scientific publications he boasts an essay published for Oadi on the traditional belts of Piana degli Albanesi, monographs on Giuseppe Damiani Almeyda as a painter and on the painter John Flaxman. He also collaborates with the Catania magazine “Incontri. Sicily and elsewhere "for which he has published numerous articles relating to Sicilian applied art works, on Baroque and contemporary art.




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