Built as a palace in the 15th century, Palermo’s Palazzo Abatellis was constructed as a luxurious home by the then prefect of the city, Francesco Abatellis, to reflect his wealthy status. Located among the narrow backstreets of the Sicilian capital’s Kalsa district, Palazzo Abatellis’ intricate Catalan-Gothic architecture with its courtyard and majestic staircase come as a pleasant surprise; what’s more, the palace also houses the regional art gallery that is packed with treasures.
Along with exquisitely painted medieval crosses and religious icons, there are some remarkable paintings and sculptures. Dominating them all is a vast 15th-century fresco by an unknown artist, the ‘Trionfo della Morte’ (Triumph of Death). Thought to have once been displayed in a local hospital, the fresco is apocalyptic in nature, depicting death in the form of a skeleton on a horse striking down nobles and peasants alike in a medieval Europe that had undergone the Black Death.
Yet most famous among the artworks on display is Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina’s ‘Virgin Annunciate’ of 1476. A meditative portrayal of a young, Sicilian girl as the Madonna interrupted by the Angel of the Annunciation, the Early Renaissance painting is innovative for its realism and has an important place in the history of art.
The most striking sculptures are the Renaissance pieces by father and son Domenico and Antonello Gagini that elevate the humble sitters to an otherworldly status. The marble sculptures’ white stone appears almost soft as you look at the delicate features and skin of the subjects portrayed with a startling realism that betrays the influence of Michelangelo.
Palazzo Abatellis is open Tuesday to Friday 9am to 7pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9am to 1.30pm. The entrance fee is €8.
Where: Palazzo Abatellis, Via Alloro 4, 90133 Palermo, Sicily