Palermo: Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico

Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico.

The Oratory of the Rosary of San Domenico is situated behind the church of the same name. Starting in 1574, it was built for a lay fraternity, the Compagnia della Madonna del Rosario di San Domenico. The paintings on the side walls are associated with the Mysteries of the Rosary. On the left and back wall we find the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries, on the right wall the Sorrowful. Pietro Novelli (1603-1647) from Monreale painted two of the Joyful and Glorious Mysteries, i.e. Christ among the Doctors and Pentecost. Novelli was furthermore responsible for the ceiling fresco, which represents the Coronation of the Virgin. Luca Giordano (1634-1705), a great painter from Naples, was responsible for the painting of the Assumption on the counter-façade of the oratory.

The most famous work in the oratory is the altarpiece of the Madonna del Rosario. It was completed around 1627 by the Flemish painter Antoon Van Dyck (1599-1641), who had been in Palermo in 1624 during the plague of that year. On the canvas the Domenican saints Dominicus (1170-1221), Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) and Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) have been depicted next to the Madonna and Child. The five (other) female saints have been identified as Olivia (or Oliva), Nympha (or Ninfa), Agatha, Christina and Rosalia. All five have a special bond with Palermo. In 1606 the first four were chosen as patron saints of the city. Unfortunately they were unable to end the aforementioned 1624 plague. Ultimately it was said to have been Saint Rosalia, a young woman who had lived as a hermit on the Monte Pellegrino in the twelfth century, who put and end to the dreadful disease. Henceforth she was also considered a patron saint of Palermo. Some people even attribute the end of the recent COVID pandemic to her.

Altarpiece by Antoon van Dyck, with statues of Divine Providence and Divine Grace on either side.

In the second decade of the eighteenth century the oratory was further embellished with stucco work by the great Sicilian artist Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732). Serpotta’s decorations can be divided into two categories. In the first place, the artist made the statues of the female figures in the niches and on the pedestals. The statues represent the various virtues, with Divine Providence and Divine Grace flanking the Van Dyck altarpiece. In the second place, Serpotta was responsible for a number of scenes in tondi above the paintings on the walls. Some of the scenes are based on the Book of Revelation and are accompanied by quotes from this book in Latin. But there are also scenes from the Old Testament, such as the tondo featuring the Jacob’s ladder. And below the impressive scene of the Expulsion of the Devil we find a text from a sermon by Saint Bernardus of Clairvaux. As always, Serpotta’s work is splendid, but it is less impressive and dominant than his work in other oratories in Palermo, for instance those of San Lorenzo and Santa Cita.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, [having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain].” (Revelation 20:1).

Expulsion of the Devil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.