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A superb treasure trove of art: the church of San Nicola di Piana degli Albanesi

Discover Piana degli Albanesi is our column in which we virtually take you to discover and visit the beauties of Piana degli Albanesi. The church of San Nicola is a treasure trove of art, good reading

Salvatore Vasotti

A sober gabled façade, combined with a bell tower characterizes the church of San Nicola: as on a drawing sheet, they stand out with an absolute essentiality - almost made with a few pencil marks - a simple "rose window", a blind arch all sixth set on two pilasters, and within this the access crowned by a broken tympanum. G. Costantini handed down that the church with a single nave was dedicated to S. Nicolò di Bari and S. Nicolò da Tolentino ... “The paintings that can be observed there are rather modest”; he cites a "large picture" depicting the Madonna del Rosario accompanied by the two aforementioned saints and "the statue of St. Joseph with the child Jesus". The mixed marbles of the altars and the floor are sumptuous. Not to be overlooked is the presence of some silver goblets, in particular two dated by A. Cuccia (1976) thanks to the presence of the fundamental logo with the eagle. Crossing the news of G. Costantini with those of G. Schirò it is inferred that in 1597 Nicolò Matranga di Paolo of Greek rite as well as inclined lineage, obtained from the archbishop of Monreale Ludovico II Torres (1551-1609), the permission to tear down a dilapidated Greek church, dedicated to San Nicolò di Bari, built in a vegetable garden owned by him in order to reconstruct one dedicated to the two saints Nicholas, one Latin and the other Greek, an attempt at a symbolic intermingling between the two rites. The church was opened for worship in 1619, albeit not finished in every detail, and its use was granted to the Frs. Reformed Augustinians…; with the law of 7 July 1866 it was suppressed together with the convent and was sold to the municipality with a report of 24 August 1870.

icone chiesa di San Nicola in Piana degli Albanesi
Iconostasi (foto Giorgio Cuccia)

Nel 1957 la chiesa acuisce il suo rilievo artistico, grazie al trasferimento di alcune icone dei secoli XVII e XVIII, antecedentemente custodite nella chiesa di San Nicola di Mira di Palermo, rasa al suolo in seguito ai truculenti eventi bellici. Sintomatica è la presenza in tale sito di due cripte, scoperte di recente, la struttura di una delle quali risulta arbitrariamente tagliata onde fare spazio alla odierna costruzione del teatro del seminario.

The iconostasis, divided into three registers, includes icons from the 1600s ": St. Nicholas enthroned by Joannikios, the Platitera, Christ king of kings and high priest and the church fathers, attributed to Joannikios; St. John the Baptist, the Deisis in the center (attributed to Caterina da Candia), the Twelve Apostles by the Master of St. Andrew and unknown authors, the Virgin and Sorrowful St. John by the Master of the Ravdà. Attached to the church is a convent, currently the seat of the eparchy. The works of Joannikios are characterized by an aura of unmistakable hieraticity, the Christ king of kings with the kamelaukion studded with precious gems blesses with a decisive and austere gesture on the face at least as much as the Pantokrator of Monreale and with more elaborate robes of the Justinian of San Vitale in Ravenna; his Madonna Odigitria preserved in the chapel of the diocesan seminary is his most noble masterpiece, an elegance that breaks every sumptuary law, in that pomace of the mantle rendered with sharp and calligraphic lines at least as much as those of the Majesty of Duccio and in that spontaneous gesture of the right hand to indicate the blessing Child. Among his church fathers, the stereometric posture of St. Gregory of Nyssa is compelling, wrapped in his sumptuous robes, he rests his feet in all his masaccesque palstity on a different level than the more transcendental one of the golden background, the intensity of the look it shares with the sublime portraits of the Fayyum. Note the high foreheads of Paul, Simon and Matthew of the Master of St. Andrew, a symbol of superior intelligence but much less attractive than St. Andrew by the same iconographer, whose very lively and light robes resemble those of certain Leonardesque and mindful Virgins of the trustworthy wet drapery. The most disturbing, most scabrous figure is San Giovanni the Precursor, a marvelous workmanship that gathers in a panegyric of wild lines, a character that emerged almost from a Dante's circle or perhaps from some decadent composition by Dino Campana, as moving as a Baudelaire poem.

Stefano Schirò

1 Cfr. G. Costantini, Studi storici (a cura di P. Manali), Palermo 2000, p. 95.

2 Lo scrivente ha attribuito tale tela al pittore trapanese Andrea Carreca (1667); cfr. S. Schirò, L’intramontabile dinastia dei Novelli. Opere inedite di Pietro Antonio Novelli, Rosalia Novelli, Andrea Carreca, Pietro Petta a Piana degli Albanesi, in corso di pubblicazione.

3 Cfr, F. Cangemi (scheda di catalogo III.14) in M. Guttilla (a cura di) Mirabile Artificio 2, Lungo le vie del legno, del marmo e dello stucco. Scultori e modellatori in Siciliadal XV al XIX secolo, Palermo 2010, pp. 196-197. Lo studioso la attribuisce a Girolamo Bagnasco (Palermo, 1759-1832).

4 Cfr. G. Schirò, Cenni sulla origine e fondazione delle colonie albanesi di Sicilia, Soveria Mannelli (Catanzaro) 1998, pp. 92-94.

5 Ibid.

6 Per uno studio dettagliato e insuperabile circa tale iconostasi cfr. Mostra d’arte sacra bizantina Piana degli Albanesi 1957-1958 (a cura di G. Valentini S.J.), Palermo 1958.

7 Cfr. J. Lindsay Opie, The Post-Byzantine Icons of Piana degli Albanesi: New Discoveries (Universita dell'Aquila) in Abstracts of Papers - Byzantine Studies Conference, Volumi 10-15, 1984.

8 Cfr. R. Santoro, Bizantini: l'eredità culturale in Sicilia, Kalós 2008.



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