La riscoperta della pittura bizantina in Puglia

Author: Marina Falla Castelfranchi

Rediscovering Byzantine Painting in Apulia

The paper aims to outline the historiographical background on Apulian medieval art, drawing particular attention to the pictorial evidence of cave heritage on the one side and, in a lager perspective, to what could be traced back to Byzantine imagery on the other one. Taking into account the increasing interest on the topic recorded from the late 19th century onwards, by both Italian and foreign scholars, ‘new’ monu­ments and specific areas of the region were investigated.
French scholars Diehl (1894) and Bertaux (1903) and Cosimo De Giorgi (1888) – among others – first approached the study of Byzantine paintings in Apulia and contributed to create the myth of hermit monks coming from Byzantium to the Western periphery of the Empire during the Iconoclastic period; they first developed the idea of a ‘hermit painting’ in Apulia. The basic book by Alba Medea (1939) and the later research activities by Cosimo Damiano Fonseca (from the 70’s of the last century) confirmed this reading – now rejected in a good part: nevertheless, agreeing or not with this interpretation of the rupestrian phenomenon, it is unquestionable that peculiarities of Apulian wall-painting production with respect to the Southern Italian panorama, especially considering what had survived in the Salento and Taranto areas, were (and still are) an important field of study for cultural history and art.
The contribution moves between a double track of investigation: specific (and most known) examples of Byzantine painting in Apulia (considering churches and crypts), and most recent researches conducted on the theme, the latter referring to their new interpretation (in terms of iconography, style, historical context and so on), as well as to the creation of a ‘network of figurative knowledge’ of rupestrian heritage, considering in particular the possibilities offered by historical photo archives, on which young scholars are recently focusing. New discoveries and well-established fields of study of Byzantine paintings in the considered region confirm and enhance the importance of Apulian rich pictorial cave heritage.