GHOST ARCHES AT HAGIA SOPHIA
You can see here where they bricked in the delicate original arches, probably to keep the walls standing. Those four black windows across the bottom of the drawing were clearly punched in for utility, as they have nothing to do with the overall aesthetic.
A commission to draw Hagia Sophia’s mosaics. The basilica, much of which is now covered by curtains or closed, was spectacularly beautiful at the time. You can see more of it in the post on this site: HOT CROSSES: Drawing Crusader Graffiti in Hagia Sophia, and in the sketchbook Book 28: HOT CROSSES.
We are where Justinian and Theodora stood, in the Imperial Gallery of the great temple they had built in faith, love and absolute power. This spot was popular: 15 centuries of graffiti is carved in the balustrade, including the famous 9th-century runes left by a Viking in the Varangian Guard. At right, we can see a bit of original brickwork and the edge of the original mosaic. At some point, the 6th-century mosaic in the shadows at the top of the narrow barrel-vault along the arch was sloppily repaired; some of the gold is replaced with silver…paint? At left, Ottoman chandeliers glow with 20th century electric lights. The column at right has been cleaned back to its original lacy white. The floral design also forms Catherine wheels. I thought this accidental until I realized that carving in stone does not lend itself to accidents. Sure enough, St Catherine was a patron saint of Justinian.
-Angel in situ—–This Seraph’s face, implacable and inhuman, was covered up for centuries in the name of Islam. It was uncovered in 2010 to great fanfare, and covered up again in 2020. There were four Seraphim, each decorating a pendentive, holding up Hagia Sophia’s dome over the square nave. This Seraph is mosaic, the face is a meter wide. It was created after 1261, when the Latins were expelled from Constantinople. Next to it at top right, showing through the plaster, we can see the ghost of a frescoed saint, a woman between two crowned heads. Drawn from the Imperial Gallery.
JAYWON &THE ARCHANGEL
-A monk from South Korea -Jaywon 7 January 2012 in Hagia Sophia -She showed me a video of an angel on her smartphone—–Hagia Sophia had two Archangels over its altar: Michael and Gabriel. Michael was said to have flown out of the dome when Constantinople fell in 1453. Sure enough, all that remain are the bottom tips of his wings, and the soles of his feet. But the Archangel Gabriel (now covered) still exists above the altar. When I drew this, there were giant photos of all of the Byzantine mosaics in the upper galleries of Hagia Sophia. Jaywon was standing in front of Gabriel’s, in white fleeces, glowing with happiness. The angel on her smartphone: a slow video of a sunrise, and out of it came a spear of light.
Empress Zoe’s third Emperor. Each one’s face and name was scraped out and replaced. This one takes the prize, for he’s been on this wall for a thousand years. Zoe, twenty years his senior, proposed to him years after their affair ended, as she hated ruling with her loathed sister. Constantine insisted that his mistress come along, and the four of them ruled: Zoe, sister Theodora, Constantine Monomachos and his mistress, Maria Sklerena. He wasn’t a bad Emperor, and he was devastated when Zoe died.
Much beloved by the people for her beauty, Zoe’s very eye-liner is preserved in mosaic on the wall of Hagia Sophia. She was pulled out of a convent at fifty, crowned, and married to a man she’d never seen. He didn’t last; she did. All those years in the convent, she studied alchemy.
Likely the most famous Jesus in the Middle East, he watches wherever you go. I spent many hours getting this right. It’s a big StandAlone drawing, twice the size of these others. The anonymous master who created this did it after 1261. The artists painted the colors on the wet compound and pressed in the matching stones. Halos and surrounding mosaic tiles were dipped in gold. Marauders scraped off most of this masterwork, but stopped short of the upper bodies. The entire wall was plastered over and only discovered in the 1940s.This is the Deesus Mosaic, where Jesus is flanked by Mary and John the Baptist, no longer visible to the public.