Kapitaikin, Lev A. "David’s dancers in Palermo: Islamic dance imagery and its Christian recontextualization in the ceilings of the Cappella Palatina." Early Music 47, no. 1 (February 2019): 3-23.
A chorus of painted dancers and musicians is poised amongst the paintings of the ‘Islamic’ muqarnas ceiling of the Cappella Palatina of Palermo, the royal chapel constructed by King Roger II of Sicily (1130–54). The ceilings’ paintings were the work of artists likely imported from Fatimid Egypt or the Maghrib, and these dancers denote slave-girls and singers—called jawari or qiyan—who were a standard ‘accessory’ of medieval Islamic courts, but were also kept by some Christian monarchs, and the Normans of Sicily (1130–94). The dancers’ paintings in the Palatina are related to parallel Islamic imagery and textual testimonies of dance from Fatimid Egypt, Seljuq Iran, medieval Spain, and Arabic Sicily itself. The dancers’ poses suggest a rapid transmission of Far Eastern dance iconographies and choreographies like the Asian ‘sleeve-dance’ via Central Asia, to Islamic Byzantium and beyond. Yet once those Islamic dancers were transposed to this Christian royal chapel, allocated to its sanctuary/choir entrance, and associated with another painting in that ceiling of David the harpist alla Romanesque Psalter, they acquired a Christian meaning of a Davidic ‘Dance of Triumph’, as in dance illustrations in Middle Byzantine psalters and bibles. As such, the dancers depicted in the Palatina ceiling are grim evocations of captive Muslim entertainers performing a psalmody at the Holy Temple of Christ and the Norman king.