If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Coronation mantle

Coronation Mantle, 1133/34, fabric from Byzantium or Thebes, samite, silk, gold, pearls, filigree, sapphires, garnets, glass, and cloisonné enamel, 146 x 345 cm (Neue Hofburg, Vienna). Likely made for the Norman ruler Roger II in 1133/34 in the royal workshop in Palermo of fabric from Byzantium or Thebes, Samite, silk, gold, pearls, filigree, sapphires, garnets, glass, and cloisonné enamel. The Kufic script reads: "This mantle was worked in the most magnificent clothing workshop and is connected with the desire and hopes, felicitous days and nights without cease or change, with authority, with honor and felicity, assurances of trust, reverent care, protection, good destiny, freedom from harm, triumph and livelihood in the capital city of Sicily in the year 528" (or 1133/34 in the Gregorian calendar). Neue Hofburg, Vienna.  Speakers: Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: We're in the Hofburg in Vienna, in the royal treasury, which is filled with crowns and scepters. DR. BETH HARRIS: Reliquaries and jewels. It's amazing. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And one of the real treasures is an enormous mantle that was worn during the coronations of the Holy Roman emperors. But that's not what this was made for. This was made in the 12th century in Sicily-- actually, in the royal workshops of Roger II, who was a Norman that ruled. Now the Normans, you might remember, actually began as Vikings. They came down from the north and they eventually settled in Northwestern France and also at the bottom of Italy and the island of Sicily. And that's where this was made. DR. BETH HARRIS: So this is a really large cloak. You can see the clasps at the top, for where it would have been worn over the shoulders. And it's made of red silk, gold stitching, and thousands of pearls, and enamel plates, and jewels. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: And it's in exceptional condition. The enamel is made of cloisonne, where very fine walls of gold separate the enamels themselves as they melt, as they vitrify. And what's so interesting about this mantle is if you look at its imagery, even though it was made for a Christian ruler, it's full of Islamic motifs. It was made by Islamic artisans. DR. BETH HARRIS: And we see that in the lion overpowering a camel. We see it in the calligraphic script along the semicircular bottom. And the tree of life in the center. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: A motif almost identical to that in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. These are motifs that come out of pattern books that would have transversed the Islamic world and were copied over hundreds of years. DR. BETH HARRIS: The robe was clearly meant to symbolize power. Look at the forms of those lions. They're schematic and not terribly naturalistic, but they evoke a real sense of fierceness in their faces and their puffed out chests. And the camels look so subdued and overpowered. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Those camels are domesticated. They're actually wearing saddles. One of the interpretations of this iconography, of this symbolism, is that the lions are actually representing the Normans. The house of Roger II had as its symbol the lion. Whereas the camel might be a reference to the peoples that Roger had conquered. DR. BETH HARRIS: So although this cloak was made in the 12th century, it acquired the legend that it was made for Charlemagne, for the very first Holy Roman Emperor for the 9th century. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: But we know that that's not the case because, in fact, the Kufic conscription, Arabic writing, gives us a specific date. DR. BETH HARRIS: This mantle is worked in the most magnificent royal splendor. Perfection, might, superiority, approval, prosperity, magnanimity, beauty, the fulfillment of all desires and hopes, felicitous days and nights without cease or change. With authority, with honor, freedom from harm, triumph, and livelihood in the city of Sicily in the year 528. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: 528, according to the Islamic calendar, dating from the time of Muhammad. This correlated with the 12th century in the Western calendar. Those plates also have an important iconography that has an Islamic origin. You'll see a star that's made out of the intersection of two squares. And going back to the beginning of Islam there was a notion that the Earth was a square and the heavens were a square. And here we see those overlaid. And so you do have a cosmological reference. And perhaps a reference that Roger, himself, ruled overall. DR. BETH HARRIS: There's a clear sense here of speaking to the owner's grandeur. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Just imagine through history those that were crowned Holy Roman Emperor wearing this garment. Carrying an orb. Carrying a scepter. The pope. A huge ensemble of the most powerful people in the West. It must have been quite a sight to see.