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Count Ruggero, The Camel And Panebianco

As the very educated artist that he was, Michele Panebianco  knew the history of his city well and thus the tradition whereby Count Ruggero entered the city of Messina on the back of a camel.

When he depicted this episode in a transparency for the Festivity of the  Assumption in 1842, he depicted  the Count in the centre of the scene riding a steed, painting a camel at the back of the scene

to evoke the mount  the Count was traditionally  recalled to have ridden that day.

Through Panebianco’s work,  the camel remained in the  iconographic tradition of commemoration of the  illustrious entry of the Norman into the City of Messina.

But once upon a time, the camel was also a scenographic piece – in the shape of the animal and covered by real camel hide –  which, every 12th August, for the Feast of the Assumption was part of the parade along with the Giants and the Vara. Carried around  by two men hidden within, the camel was a predator, which assailed passers by agressively. All around this mechanically moved sculpture of a camel, walked strangely dressed people, whose dances and  costumes imitated the Saracens.

The  phony camel -which perhaps alluded to the levies  collected during the Arab reign (which were carried away on the backs of camels), was seen  in Messina for the last time in 1842, that is,  in the year in which King Ferdinand II witnessed these remarkable festivities.

The bogus camel disappeared from the Feast of the Assumption parade and was destroyed, it seems,  in 1850. Memory of this  can be found in the studies carried out by Giuseppe Pitrè, which connected it to the  Feast of Saint Rocco in Butera. Even today ,”U Camiddu” (the Sicilian term for camel) can be seen in the parade  in the town of Casalvecchio Siculo, for the Feast of their patron saint, Onofrio, which is celebrated every September. Camels, however, do appear  in other  folkloristic festivals and it  is difficult to decipher both the origin and  symbolic meaning.

The notebooks with Michele Panebianco’s sketches withhold many drawings of camels. The preparatory drawings  are particularly precious for those  who want to  get to know, along with the  artist’s production, his inner self. At the same time they are rich in information retracing civic history documented by the painter himself.

The body of works, preserved until now in a private collection, will be divulged by the Michele Panebianco Research Centre and by  it’s scientific committee.  The collectionist has entrusted the study of  this remarkable figure and  the works of this  accademic artist in his epoca to this resarch group.

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