Name of Object:

Rectangular chest with a truncated-pyramid lid


Palermo, Italy

Holding Museum:

Palatine Chapel, Treasury

About Palatine Chapel, Treasury, Palermo

Date of Object:

12th century

Museum Inventory Number:

175 (جرد عام 1908)

Material(s) / Technique(s):

Carved ivory on a wooden framework, gilded bronze.


Height 12.5 cm, width 20.5 cm, depth 14.5 cm

Period / Dynasty:

Arab-Norman art

Workshop / Movement:

Islamicised workers from Sicily or southern Italy.


Sicily or southern Italy (Amalfi).


This wooden chest consists of a rectangular structure with a truncated-pyramid lid.
It has gilded bronze clasps terminating with lance-shaped brackets around the outside and five straps, also lance-shaped, fixed vertically to reinforce the lid and body. Tri-lobed handles, also in gilded bronze, decorate the lid and the smaller sides.
The edges of the individual faces of the lid are decorated with small painted crosses made up of groups of circles emanating from a central point and painted alternately in red and green ink. On the short sides of the chest, the circles are grouped into triangles with obvious symbolic meaning. There is a fabric lining on the inside that would have originally been red.
There are a number of similar pieces that can be compared to this one. Specifically, with regard to the decoration, the most comprehensive comparisons are with the oval chest at York Minster in the UK and with two examples with truncated-pyramid lids in Palermo, also in the Palatine Chapel collection. Nonetheless, the most obvious comparisons can be drawn with the chest at the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, USA, in which there are similarities not only in the decoration but also in the form and the inclusion of bronze elements.

View Short Description

Caskets similar to this one in shape and materials have been found in Sicily and southern Italy, where they would have been produced by Muslim craftsmen. The insides of these caskets were usually lined with fabric and they may have been used to keep jewellery.

How date and origin were established:

Despite the lack of specific documentary references, reference may be made to Cott’s work, which mainly attributes carved ivory production to the 12th century. This dating is subsequently taken up by Pinder Wilson with specific reference to the first half of the century, in relation to the chest at York Minster, which he suggests is linked to the trip made by William Fitz Herbert in 1147–8 to Sicily and his cousin Ruggero (Roger) II. (See Bibliography.)

How Object was obtained:

Not available.

How provenance was established:

The existence of various pieces comparable to this one has led scholars to believe that there may have been a single centre of production in Sicily or, according to Pinder Wilson (see Bibliography), southern Italy, specifically Amalfi.

Selected bibliography:

Andaloro, M. (ed.), Federico e la Sicilia dalla Terra alla Corona, Arti Figurative e Suntuarie, Exhibition catalogue, Palermo, 1995.
Cott, P. B., Siculo- Arabic Ivories, Princeton, 1939.
Di Marzo, G., Note Illustrative degli Antichi Cofanetti della Real Cappella Palatina di Palermo, Palermo, s.d.
Ferrandis, J., Marfiles Arabes de Occidente, Vol. II, Madrid, 1935–40.
Gabrieli, F. and Scerrato U., Gli Arabi in Italia, Milan, 1979.
Pinder Wilson, R. H. and Brooke, C. N. L., “The Reliquary of St. Petroc and the Ivories of Norman Sicily”, Arcaeologia, 1973, p.104.

Citation of this web page:

Maria Ilaria Randazzo "Rectangular chest with a truncated-pyramid lid" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;it;Mus01_C;46;en

Prepared by: Maria Ilaria RandazzoMaria Ilaria Randazzo

Laureata in Lettere Moderne presso l'Università di Palermo, ha conseguito il Perfezionamento in Arte medievale e Moderna, ed è Esperto nella gestione del Patrimonio Museale.
Ha svolto diversi studi finalizzati alla stesura di schede storico-critiche finalizzate a perizie, mostre e cataloghi, ed è autrice di saggi ed articoli relativi al patrimonio storico artistico siciliano.

Copyedited by: Pier Paolo RacioppiPier Paolo Racioppi

Laureato e specializzato in storia dell'arte presso l'Università di Roma “La Sapienza” sta conseguendo il dottorato di ricerca in Storia e conservazione dell'oggetto d'arte e d'architettura presso l'Università di Roma TRE. Ha svolto attività seminariali presso l'Istituto di Storia dell'Arte all'Università La Sapienza di Roma e attualmente è docente di storia dell'arte del Rinascimento presso la IES at Luiss (Roma).
Ha pubblicato diversi contributi sulla tutela artistica, il collezionismo e le accademie d'arte, ed ha collaborato al Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani dell'Enciclopedia Treccani.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: IT 67


 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period

Siculo–Norman Art

On display in

MWNF Galleries

Furniture and woodwork Ivory


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