The true story of the Moor's heads


The Testa di Moro is a characteristic object of the Sicilian tradition. It is a hand-painted ceramic vase used as an ornament depicting the face of a Moor and sometimes of a good-looking young woman.

They are almost always displayed in pairs on the balconies of Sicilian houses, on the sides of the sunny terraces in country villas, but also as precious objects inside the houses in the cities of Italy and around the world.

The Moro heads have now become an emblem of Sicily. They are liked by Sicilians, but also by all Italians and foreign tourists, who see in them an artistic expression characteristic of our land.

Today the Testa di Moro is an increasingly popular design object. It is often large in size, finely hand painted, with a crown on its head and gorgeous jewels around its neck.

The best production stands out for the brilliance of the colors, the refined chromatic combinations and the brightness of the ceramic, but also for the beauty of the face, the care and richness of details, the perfection of the particular eyes and lips. .

The Testa di Moro is certainly linked to the period of Arab domination in Sicily, between the 9th and 12th centuries. To support this thesis are some of its characteristics: the somatic features reported in the most ancient finds, very similar to those of the Arab population, and the decoration of the crown, which symbolizes the people who reigned at the time.

Anthropoid vases, that is, those that recall, in some of their parts or decorations, the human face or bust, are of ancient origin.

Their use dates back to the prehistoric period: archaeological finds show how the amphorae had a neck decorated with simple lines engraved to represent the basic components of a face: eyebrows, eyes and a hint of the lips; while on the body of the vessel there were often two protuberances very similar to the shape of female breasts. From then on, ancient art is richly studded with vases, sometimes decorative at other times for funerary use, whose volumes or decorations recall human or animal features, as in the case of Egyptian civilization, for example. < / p>

But what is their story of the Sicilian Moor's Heads? The true story of these objects, so unusual and fascinating, which tell us about a Sicily linked to its traditions, but also ready to innovate in the direction of an artistic creativity that is always very specific and at the same time original.

A legend tells that in a neighborhood of Palermo, the Kalsa, during the Arab occupation, a beautiful girl lived. She spent her days looking after the flowers on her balcony. A young dark-haired man passed by who noticed her and one day decided to declare his love for her. They fell madly in love with each other. Unfortunately he was married and had offspring, and sadly he had to go away. What did she do? He took a dagger, killed him in his sleep and, just to make sure that he would always stay by his side, he cut off his head and used it as a jar for basil which, washed down by the girl's tears, became luxuriant and fragrant. . So the envious neighbors began to make vases in the shape of a dark brown.

Even Boccaccio in the Decameron tells a similar story, that of the beautiful Lisabetta who falls in love with the young Lorenzo, of modest condition. Her brothers then decide to assassinate him, but Lorenzo appears at night to his beauty and points out where his body was buried. Lisabetta then takes the head of her beloved and puts it in a vase, where the basil will grow. But the brothers will steal the vase, and the young woman will let herself die, putting an end to this unfortunate love story.

My emotion:

As a child, in the garden of my uncles' house in Palermo, to decorate the entrance to the avenue covered with grape pergolas, there were succulent plants that came out of red terracotta pots, in the shape of a Moor's Head . Every time I passed by, I looked at them with a mixture of restlessness and fascination. It seemed to me that a form of life had crystallized in those strange objects and that at any moment the Moor's Head could come alive and talk.

See the collection of our Moor's Heads:

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