BORN TO THE PURPLE Antoine Helbert’s magnificent painting doesn’t lie. Dozens of chunks of multicolored marble litter the Palace site. They’re grey until it rains, and then they’re a rainbow: wine-purple pophyry, speckled green malachite, white flecked with carnelian, saffron, deep emerald green veined with black, glittering white, translucent pale amber.
I think the Palace looked like a painting of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s, now in the Getty, entitled “Spring.” Brilliant colors juxtaposed with statues and frescoes, a painting in polished marble, and a pophyry birth chamber giving rise to the expression porphyrogenita: literally “born to the purple.”
Sir Lawrence painted this in 1901, and I will bet a Byzantine brick that he visited Istanbul first and saw what was left of the Palace. The layout is the same, and so are the colors of the marble. He also painted this piece, which invokes the Boukoleon Sea Gate, with the walled shoreline going off into the distance.
And this one. Notice the bull statue.
Pulling myself up into the Boukoleon ruins with nettles spiking my wrists, I think of these nymphs… and I know they were real. People really did gaze from marble battlements down at the boats, waving, hoping, fearing, for hundreds of years. They did indeed.
—Rolling the Boukoleon Bones: Next: BROKEDOWN PALACE