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An Iconic Sicilian Vase

Posted by Suzanne on 30 Oct 2015



The eyes of the Blackmoor vase

The stare of the Blackmoor pottery head vase on the second floor of Palazzo Notar Nicchi, Polizzi Generosa, is penetrating, his eyes: dark and large. It is not the more gentile gaze of many of the Moor pottery heads seen on open terraces and columns all over the island; filled with plants.

And, the face of the Blackmoor vase on the second floor is strikingly handsome; the deepest black, bold and elegant. He came to The Sicilian House from the east coast of Sicily. And, he does not have an accompanying female beauty in the house; they often come paired.

The only decorated female head in The Sicilian House sits in the entry of the ground floor Sant Orsola apartment. She wears a crown and jewels; is regal looking and flawlessly beautiful. We call her the ‘Sicilian Queen’.

The story of the pottery head vase of the Moor, ‘an icon’ of Sicilian folklore, has been around for well over a 1000 years says Swide writer Jonathan Brazzi.

And, it is a chilling legend filled with all the traits of a Greek tragedy: forbidden love, desire, seduction, murder and despair anchored dramatically in the time of Arab rule in Sicily.

The Legend

The legend tells of a young beauty who, Jonathan Brazzi notes, tended her plants daily on her terrace in the La Kalsa quarter of Palermo. She always ignored the attention of passing young men until a young, handsome Moor caught her eye; they fell desperately in love.

He was married and on the eve of his return to the East she slayed him as he slept, cut off his head and fashioned it into a vase. She wept tears of despair after the event and those tears, Brazzi recounts, watered the basil planted in the vase. Much to the envy of her neighbours it flourished and all wanted a Moor head vase.

The legend of a vase, made out of the head of a Moor, is said to have started here.

A find in Taormina

We bought the striking Blackmoor vase a few years ago in a ceramics’ shop tucked down a narrow side street in Taormina just off the street which heads to the Greek Theatre. And, I don’t remember if he had an accompanying female beauty.

This Blackmoor vase hails from one of Caltagirone’s ceramic studios: Besnik Harizi. Hand painted and glazed he is colourful and dramatic. And, crowned in foliage reminiscent of fico d’ India with his head draped with fabric and his neck and ears bejewelled he has the air of an emir.

The doomed love of the young Palermitan beauty

Possibly, the lover of the young beauty tending her plants on that Palermitan terrace may have been a young moustached Moor similar to the one above. He often sits on the open terrace of Palazzo Notar Nicchi; he comes from the Alessi studio in Caltagirone.

Caltagirone, one of Sicily’s major ceramic centres, has numerous studios to be discovered. They are dotted throughout the town’s streets and off the town’s wonderful long staircase, La Scala di Santa Maria del Monte. It is not far from Catania.





A note : Jonathan Brazzi's article: "Sicilian Folk Stories:the Moorish head, Anatomy of an Icon" appeared in Swide, May 2015


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