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12 Days: Highlights of 2016

26 December 2015

Over the 12 days of Christmas, Apollo contributors and guests select their highlights of 2016

View the full 12 Days series here

At the darkest time of the year, I’m contenting myself with thoughts of the south – or at least, of exhibitions slated for next year that promise to bring something of the south to England. Two major shows dedicated to Sicily should open up intriguing perspectives on an island that bears the marks of its many foreign rulers but somehow retains a very distinctive character.

First up is ‘Sicily: Culture and Conquest’ (21 April–14 August 2016) at the British Museum, which explores two key periods in the island’s history: Greek colonisation and rule from the 7th century BC onwards, and the Norman conquest in the late 11th century that gave rise to the enlightened culture of the court of Roger II. It will be fascinating to see how effectively the artefacts assembled here situate the material and artistic cultures of Sicily at the centre of two such historically disparate maps of Europe, and how the curators choose to contrast the island’s golden ages.

During the summer, meanwhile, the Ashmolean in Oxford is mounting ‘Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas’ (21 June–25 September 2016) – a dramatic title that places the Sicilian coastline centre stage in the theatre of conflict and collaboration between ancient civilisations in Europe. The exhibition includes some 200 objects fetched up from the seas around the island, in part as a way of exploring how underwater archaeology has, since it was pioneered in the 1960s, transformed our understanding of the trade and truculence between the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean. Highlights include warship rams from the prows of ships that took part in a decisive naval battle between Rome and Carthage; and elements of a Byzantine marble ‘flat pack’ church, one of those dispatched by Justinian to bolster Christendom but in this case capsized off the southeast coast of Sicily.

Away from Sicily, a few more Italian highlights for 2016 – these ones in the country. I’m looking forward to the first exhibition of the year at Palazzo Cini in Venice, when it opens in April for 2015. This will feature paintings from the Veneto collected by Vittorio Cini, the great Italian industrialist and collector who founded the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in 1951. It should provide a fascinating supplement to the exceptional Tuscan and Ferrarese paintings in the permanent display on the piano nobile. And finally, there’s ‘Correggio and Parmigianino: Art in Parma in the 16th Century’ (spring 2016) at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome. Exhibitions that look beyond the art of Rome, Florence and Venice in the period are always worthwhile – and this one sounds as if it will worth travelling for, not least because it is curated by David Ekserdjian, formerly of this parish.

Thomas Marks is editor of Apollo magazine.

View the rest of the 12 Days series here

Event details

‘Sicily: Culture and Conquest’ is at the British Museum, London, from 21 April–14 August 2016.

‘Storms, War and Shipwrecks: Treasures from the Sicilian Seas’ is at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, from 21 June–25 September 2016.

The Vittorio Cini collection of paintings from the Veneto goes on display at Palazzo Cini, Venice, on 25 April 2016.

‘Correggio and Parmigianino: Art in Parma in the 16th Century’ opens at the Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, in spring 2016.