Qantara Qantara

Mantle of Roger II of Sicily

  • Title/name : Mantle of Roger II of Sicily
  • Production place : Palermo, Sicily
  • Date / period : 1133-1134
  • Materials and techniques : Silk embroidered with gold thread, emphasised with pearls (embroidered stitching: with a slit, chain stitch from the back, Boulogne stitch, on wadding embroidered with gold thread), finely cut gold plates encrusted with precious stones and enriched with cloisonne enamel
  • Dimensions : H. 1,46 m; L. 3,45 m
  • Conservation town : Vienna
  • Conservation place : Kunsthistorisches Museum, Schatzkammer
  • Inventory number : inv. XIII 14
  • Inscription :

    On the lower border, certain letters in flowery Cufic calligraphy, some letters with a swan’s neck silhouette (in Arabic).

  • Translation :

    “Here is what was created in the princely treasury, filled with luck, illustration, majesty, perfection, longanimity, superiority, welcome, prosperity, liberality, shine, pride, beauty, the achievement of desires and hopes, the pleasure of days and nights, without cease or change, with glory, devotion, preservation, protection, chance, salvation, victory and capability, in the capital of Sicily, in the year 528 H. [1133-1134] ".

This large semi-circular cape – a common form in the mediaeval period for ceremonial mantles – is one of a whole batch of luxurious clothes made between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries in Sicily by craftsmen of Arab origin. Some are dated[1]. Arriving in Germany by marriage or inheritance at the very beginning of the thirteenth century, they were very quickly used for the coronations of emperors of the Germanic Roman Holy Empire. Initially preserved in  Aix-la-Chapelle (it is believed that the cape once belonged to Charlemagne), then, from 1424 to the end of the eighth century in Nuremburg, they finally entered the treasury of the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1801[2].

The decoration of the back of the cape, in monumental mirror form, is in gold on a red background, detailed in red, light blue, yellow, dark brown or in reserve. It is entirely underlined with two rows of little pearls (several hundreds of thousands)[3]. Backing on to either side of a date-palm there are two couples of animals displaying the antique theme of the predator seizing its prey: a lion, with head proudly held high and tail curving up above its back to meet a half palm leaf, curves punctuated with rosettes broad-leaved foliage, crushing and holding a dromedary in it is powerful claws. If the different unrealistic details emphasising the anatomy of the animals were already common in the tenth century[4], others (lions claws, the hairs on the lips of the dromedary for example) are very realistic as well as the execution of volumes and the tension which emerges from the attack. While contemporary mantels offer repeated decorations on a small scale[5], this one, on the contrary was designed as a powerful symbol of the victory of the Norman Hauteville dynasty, whose emblem is a lion, over the Arabs. Because of its date, the cape cannot have been used at the coronation of Roger II (1130). Perhaps it was created for a particular occasion? The upper border of the item (which appears on its front when it is worn) is embroidered with a frieze of quatrefoils furnished with a lily alternating with golden lozenges. Behind the head of the lions, two circular broaches in goldsmith’s art, decorated with star-shaped rosettes are at the centre of a quatrefoil enriched with gems set in the claws; with two small “rings” in gold encrusted with rubies set on either side of the collar, these would fasten the mantle.

The inside of the cape is lined with different bits of material with diverse techniques and decorations. Several are ornamented with snakelike dragons whose bodies knot to form openings which frame isolated characters, knights, animals and “candelabra” trees. The way in which these dragons are crafted, with heads which face or back onto each other, evokes the decorations sculpted in stucco and stone of several edifices, or painted on the ceramics of the Seljuq and Ayyubid eras[6]. On one of these materials, large ribbons draw lozenge shaped frames and semi-lozenge shaped frames in degree which enclose trees with parallel branches, two of which are longer and finish in dragons heads (?) which stand up, with leaves that are all downturned displaying birds heads; in the lozenge shaped frames, this tree is flanked by two moving women. Similar decorations can be found on other textile attributed to Sicily[7] and even evoke the glazed ornate cup of the “bird tree” at the Louvre[8].

This unique item of clothing, by the extraordinary finesse of its creation, its decoration and its inscription, perfectly illustrates the luxury of the court of Roger II and the successful symbiosis of the savoir-faire and decorative themes of the Islamic Orient and Christian Sicily.


[1] The blue Dalmatic was doubtless made at the same time as the cape in Palermo. The white alb dates from 1180; the gloves, modelled on the cape, in 1220. The sword was made in 1220 for the coronation of Frederic II Hohenstaufen. The gaiters seem to have been a Palermo work from the second quarter of the twelfth century, and the shoes, remade with older materials date from 1764. Other insignias, typically western, or at least Christian, such as the crown made in 962 for the coronation of Otto I, the crux gemmata dating from 1030, and the manuscript of the Gospels from c. 800, are part of the regalia of the Holy Roman Empire.  

[2] Fearing the advance of Napoleon in Europe, François II of Hapsburg had them transported to Vienna where they remained even after 1806, date of the dissolution of the Germanic Roman Empire.

[3] In Byzantium already, imperial clothes, of purple colour, were embroidered in silks, enriched with pearls and stones and the broaches of sovereigns and dignitaries were circular.

[4] The rosettes on the shapes of the paws and palm leaves on the thighs could also be seen on textile from Central Asia and Iran. Several of them, brought back from the Crusades, entered into church treasuries. The same decorations on the limbs of quadrupeds can be found in the eighth century in the enamels of  Limoges.

[5] For example, both preserved at the Diözesan museum of Bamberg: the knight’s mantle, said to be Henri II’s , from the twelfth century, made in silk fashioned with wheel decorations framing an emperor on a horse with animals prostrate and the mantle of Emperor Henri II, from the first quarter of the eleventh century, embroidered with a sowing of stars and circular medallions, furnished with characters and animals  defined by little inscriptions, another ornamented and monumental, underlining the lower border. Maybe the great silk work with decorations embroidered with medallions ornamented with knights or eagles known s the “shroud of Saint Lazarus of Autun”, executed at the beginning of the eleventh century in al-Andalus (Autun, cathedral treasury) was also destine for the embellishment of an item of clothing. Famous capes from the eleventh – twelfth century, the “cape of Saint Mexme” (Chinon museum) and the cape said to be “of King Robert” (Toulouse, Saint-Sernin treasury) were made in fashioned silks from Egypt and al-Andalus. The tradition can be found a lot later; Polish churches preserve an important collection of liturgical clothing made with Ottoman and Safavid textiles. 

[6] For a few pictures of the textile themselves, see Grube, E. J. and Johns, J., The Painted Ceilings of the Cappella Palatina, suppl. I to Islamic Art, New York, 2005, p. 235 no. 79.10 and p. 260 nos. 94.3, 94.4 and 94.5, and Gabrieli, F. and Scerrato, U., Gli Arabi in Italia, Berlin, 1979, no. 151. For comparison with Seljuq and Ayyubid dragons: for example sculpted on the stone of the îwân at the entry to the Karatay Han, 1240-1241; arch of the oratory of the Sultan Han, 1232-1236, central Anatolia; Porte “of the Talisman” in Baghdad, 1221, destroyed in 1917; platter with interlaced dragons forming the knot of happiness, siliceous ceramic with decoration painted under glaze, Syria, twelfth-thirteenth centuries, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 20.52.3; for these examples and others, see Grube and Johns, op. cit., p. 230-231, 234-235.  

[7] See four examples of silk and gold thread tapestries, one from the treasury of the cathedral of Münster, the other from the tomb of  Saint-Antoine of Padua, the two others preserved in museums (Lyon, Textile Museum, 29985; Paris, Musée de Cluny, 3054), in Grube and Johns, op. cit., p. 261.

[8] Paris, Musée du Louvre, Islamic Art department, MAO 380. The theme seems to be very close, if not inspired by a silk work fashioned like the silk with falcons, Sicily, twelfth century, Hannover, Kestrer Museum, 3854.


Bauer, R., « Il manto di Ruggero II », in Normanni, 1994, p. 279-287.

Combe, É., Sauvaget, J., Wiet, G., Répertoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe, Le Caire, 1931, Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, p. 184-185, n° 3058.

Fillitz, H., Die Schatskammer in Wien, Symbole abendländischen Kaiserturns, Salzburg, Vienne, 1986.

Gabrieli, F., Scerrato, U., Gli Arabi in Italia, Milan, 1979, pl. 142-152.

Grube, E. J., Johns, J., The painted ceilings of the Cappella Palatina, New York, 2005, p. 235, 260, « Islamic Art », supp. I.

Helmecke, G., « Sizilianische Textilien von den Araben bis zu den Staufen », in Friedrich II, 1995, p. 24-28.

Kendrick, A. F., « The Sicilian woven Fabrics of the XIIth and XIIIth Centuries », in The Magazine of Fine Arts, I, 1905-1906, p. 36-44, 124-131.

Stillfried, A., « History and Heritage: the Former Imperial Treasury in Vienna », in The Journal of Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, Issue 23, 2007, p. 2-6.

Spuler, B., Sourdel-Thomine, J., Kunst des Islams, Berlin, 1973,  Propyläen Verlag, p. 265, n° 199.

Varoli-Piazza, R., « La produzione di manufatti tessili nel palazzo Reale die Palermo : "tiraz" or "égasterion" », in Normanni, 1994, p. 288-290.

Tronzo, W., « The mantle of Roger II of Sicily », in Investiture, 2001, p. 241-253.

Coronation Mantle of Roger II of Sicily, [en ligne], <>, [consulté le 10 juillet 2008].

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