Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita

Palermo, Italy | C.1590

Photo Credit: Federico Bonel

For many years, only a select few were able to see the wonders inside the Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita. Oratories were generally private prayer rooms with strict rules about who could and could not enter, few knew of the masterpieces that lay inside.

Built by the Compagnia del Rosario in 1590, the Oratory of St. Cita became the home of works by Giacomo Serpotta, an artistic master known for his work using stucco. A self-taught artist, Serpotta was also an innovator and is credited with creating “faux marble” by repurposing marble dust and mixing it into the final layers of his stucco creations, in turn making them appear to be fully-marble. These works, executed in the Rococo style, are extremely ornamental.

The walls of the space are packed with flying cherubs, flower garlands, among other designs and motifs. Despite the fast-setting nature of the stucco, Serpotta’s work was so intricate that it took him over 30 years to complete. Some modern viewers doubted that all the work could be attributed to Serpotta alone due to variation in styles, until documents proved his was indeed the vision and hand behind all of the work.

Although much time had passed, the stuccoes tell the story known as the mysteries of the rosary, separated into the joyful, luminous, and sorrowful. They include small scenes of the annunciation, baptism, and carrying of the cross, although, under Serpotta’s deft hand, they can be considered individually or as a group.

In recent years, the use of private oratories has diminished and many have become, either semi-private or public spaces where individuals can visit. Today, the Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita is open to the public, proving easy access to the previously secluded masterworks of Giacomo Serpotta.

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