The Paintings of Ferrande Tower: The Crusade of Charles of Anjou

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:40 PM
McHenry Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Elizabeth Lapina, Durham University
Ferrande Tower (Provence, France) contains a rare example of medieval mural paintings dedicated almost entirely to historical events. The program, executed in the late thirteenth century, celebrates the conquest of Sicily by Count Charles of Anjou from the Hohenstaufen, the descendants of Emperor Frederick II. The paintings also contain a seemingly unrelated scene of combat between a Christian knight, identified as legendary hero William of Orange, and a Saracen. My paper examines the program as an important and hereto largely overlooked piece of evidence concerning the so-called political crusades, fought within Europe against enemies of the papacy.

A formal agreement between Charles of Anjou and Pope Clement IV preceded the conquest of Sicily and, in 1266, papal representatives crowned Charles as king of Sicily. However, some contemporaries doubted both the validity of the crusade and the motivations of Charles. Many criticized him for his lack of enthusiasm for crusading against Muslims and more specifically for his half-hearted participation in the Seventh and the Eighth crusades organized by his brother King Louis IX of France.

The argument of my paper is that the paintings attempt to celebrate the conquest of Sicily as a true crusade by representing it as an integral part of a wider conflict between Christians and Muslims. Thus, the scene of battle between William of Oranges and a Saracen is a key to interpreting the entire program. It reminds the viewer of the use of troops from the Muslim colony of Lucera (Southern Italy) by the Hohenstaufen and of the capture of the colony by Charles in 1269. It emphasizes – and exaggerates –  the importance of the latter episode by comparing it to the legendary achievements of William, cousin of Charlemagne, credited with saving Provence from the Saracens.