Wisdom and the Infinite. The Tree of life in the Mosaic of Otranto
By focusing on the prestigious mosaic floor of the cathedral of Otranto (1163-65), this exhibition seeks to increase public interest in the culture and wisdom of the Middle Ages. Although this mosaic shows an interesting set of figures that may initially appear disordered, the figures reveal a knowledge based on curiosity, symbols, and biblical, literary, and iconographic references. They range from stories of Genesis to classical myths, from biblical prefigurations of Christ to the symbolism of animal legends, from King Arthur to Alexander the Great, from Dante’s Paradise to the Inferno. Everything is based on a symbol that lends figurative unity to this work: the tree of life. This is a very significant archetype. It is often mentioned in the Bible, from the garden of Eden to the heavenly Jerusalem, including the cross of Christ, and involving the theme of knowledge: “A tree of life is wisdom to those who grasp her, and happy is he who holds her fast” (Proverbs 3, 18). The exhibition will present large-scale photos of the mosaic in Otranto, and will develop a few connected themes, such as the tree of life, the months and human work, Babel’s tower, monsters and evil, Alexander the Great and the prefigurations of Christ. Guided tours will be particularly important. They will aim to offer an introduction to reading the mosaic, based on the visitor’s curiosity, as well as shedding more light on medieval tradition. In making this connection, the exhibition will also draw attention to a cultural horizon that cherishes many of the diverse traditions that meet in the Mediterranean—from Judaism to classical, from Byzantine to Islamic—and are re-interpreted in this mosaic on the basis of Otranto’s Christian identity.
Edited by Marco Rossi, Alessandro Rovetta, Marcello Tempesta, Manuel Triggiani. In cooperation with the students of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan and the University of Lecce.