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Collaboration and innovation in the arts of Byzantine Constantinople

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2016

Robert Ousterhout*
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign


In the period after Iconoclasm, a Byzantine church was a framework for a complex, multi-level programme of figural decoration in mosaic or fresco. The architectural form of the building was abstract, but it was given meaning through its decorative programme. The selection and placement of images would have interacted with the services celebrated in the church to emphasise the message of the liturgy and to express the order within the Christian cosmos. It is therefore not surprising, although not often noted, that the standard, Middle Byzantine church types were developed simultaneously with a relatively standardised programme of interior decoration.

Copyright © The Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham 1997

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1. This paper derives from a book-length study in progress, entitled Byzantine Masons at Work. A version of it was presented at the 1995 AIEMA Colloquium on Ancient and Medieval Mosaics and Painting in Montreal.

2. Demus, O., Byzantine Mosaic Decoration (London 1948)Google Scholar, presents the now classic formulation.

3. See, most recently, James, L., ‘Monks, monastic art, the sanctoral cycle and the middle Byzantine church’, in Mullett, M. and Kirby, A., eds.. The Theotokos Evergetis and eleventh-century monasticism (Belfast 1994), 162175 Google Scholar. For further discussion, particularly the development of the so-called ‘Feast Cycle’, see Demus, op. cit.; and further comments by Kitzinger, E., ‘Reflections on the Feast Cycle in Byzantine Art’, CahArch 36 (1988), 5173 Google Scholar. Mathews, T., ‘The Sequel to Nicaea II in Byzantine Church Decoration’, Perkins Journal 41/3 (1988), 1123 Google Scholar, questions the correctness of the term ‘Feast Cycle’; however, Maguire, H., ‘The Mosaics of Nea Moni: An Imperial Reading’, DOP 46 (1992), 205214 Google Scholar, notes that Demus follows Byzantine terminology: in the eleventh century John Mauropous wrote an ekphrasis called Eis pinakas megalous ton heorton; ed. Lagarde, P. De, lohannis Euchaitorum Metropolitae quae in codice vaticano graeco 676 supersunt (Göttingen 1882), 28, nos. 211 Google Scholar. I use the term ‘Feast cycle’ with caution, for the sake of convenience.

4. Striker, C.L., The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul (Princeton 1981).Google Scholar

5. Belting, H.,Mango, c., and Mouriki, D., The Mosaics and Frescoes of St. Mary Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii) at Istanbul (Washington, D.C. 1978).Google Scholar

6. Epstein, A.Wharton, ‘The Fresco Decoration of the Column Churches, Goreme Valley, Cappadocia’, CahArch 29 (1980-81), 2745.Google Scholar

7. The dome collapsed earlier this century, but photographs of it appear in Ramsay, W. and Bell, G., The Thousand and One Churches (London 1909), figs. 332333 Google Scholar. No other masonry dome has been recorded from the Middle Byzantine period in Cappadocia, and the evidence for the decoration of masonry churches is extremely limited; see the additional discussion of Çanli Kilise, below.

8. See Gürçay, H. and Amok, M., ‘Yeralti Şehirlerlinde bir inceleme ve Yeşilhisar ilçesinin Soğanlidere köyünde bulunan kaya anulari’, Turk Arkeoloji Dergisi 14 (1965), 3568, esp. figs. 4246.Google Scholar

9. Ousterhout, R., ‘Originality in Byzantine Architecture: The Case of Nea Moni’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 51 (1992), 4860 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For an imperial reading of the mosaic programme, see Maguire, ‘Mosaics of Nea Moni’.

10. As noted by Kitzinger, ‘Reflections on the Feast Cycle’, esp. 57–58.

11. I am preparing a monographic study of Çanh Kilise and its site; see for now Ousterhout, R., ‘The 1994 Season at Akhisar-Canh Kilise’, XIII. Araştirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (Ankara 1996), 165180 Google Scholar; the most complete discussion of the fresco programme is by Ötüken, Y., ‘Akhisar Çanh Kilise frescolan’, Bedrettin Cömer’te Armagan (Ankara 1980), 303320.Google Scholar

12. Grape, W., ‘Zum Stil der Mosaiken in der Kilise Camii in Istanbul’, Pantheon 32 (1974), 313 Google Scholar; see more recently Mango, C., ‘The Work of M.I. Nomidis in the Vefa Kilise Camii Istanbul’, Mesaionika kai nea ellenika 3 (Athens 1990), 421429.Google Scholar

13. Ousterhout, R., The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul (Washington, D.C. 1987), 94,Google Scholar accepts the dating proposed by Krautheimer, R., Early Christian and Byzantine Architecture (4th rev. ed., with S. Ćurčić) (Harmondsworth 1986), 446447.Google Scholar

14. I follow Demus, O., the Mosaics of Norman Sicily (London 1949),148 Google Scholar; and Kitzinger, E., The Mosaics of Monreale (Palermo 1960), passim, esp. 86 and 112114 Google Scholar, in assigning the mosaics to a Constantinopolitan or at least Byzantine workshop; Borsook, E., Messages in Mosaic (Oxford 1990),53 Google Scholar, has proposed instead a Sicilian or South Italian workshop, but this has not been generally accepted.ln addition to stylistic and technical arguments, Demus notes (p. 148), ‘Only in Byzantium could [William] find an organised workshop able to finish the enormous task in so short a time’. See most recently, Duncan-Flowers, M.J., The Mosaics of Monreale: A Study of Their Monastic and Funerary Contexts, (Ph.D. diss.: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1994).Google Scholar

15. Andaloro, M. and Flores, G.Naselli, I Mosaici di Monreale: Restaure e scoperte 1965–1972 (Palermo 1986), esp. 4849.Google Scholar

16. As proposed by Kitzinger, op. cit., 108; and supported by Kronig, W., The Cathedral of Monreale and Norman Architecture in Sicily (Palermo 1965).Google Scholar

17. Andaloro and Naselli Flores, op. cit., 51–52. I thank M.J. Duncan-Flowers for bringing this information to my attention. The Constantinopolitan artist working at Tokali Kilise at Göreme faced similar challenges; see Epstein, A.W., Tokali Kilise: Tenth-Century Metropolitan Art in Byzantine Cappadocia (Washington, D.C. 1986).Google Scholar

18. As I have suggested elsewhere; Ousterhout, Architecture of the Kariye, 96–100, 130–132, 142–144, and passim. See also idem, ‘The Virgin of the Chora: An Image and Its Contexts’, The Sacred Image East and West, Illinois Byzantine Studies 4, eds. Ousterhout, R. and Brubaker, L. (Urbana-Chicago 1995), 91109.Google Scholar

19. Ousterhout, Architecture of the Kariye, 131.

20. For an assessment of the style, see Demus, O., ‘the Style of the Kariye Djami and Its Place in the Development of Palaeologan Art’, the Kariye Djami, vol. 4, ed. Underwood, P.A. (Princeton 1975), 107161.Google Scholar

21. Ousterhout, Architecture of the Kariye, 132.

22. Ousterhout, 96–100. For a slightly different interpretation, see Teteriantnikov, N., ‘The Place of the Nun Melania (the Lady of the Mongols) in the Deesis Program of the Inner Narthex of the Chora, Constantinople’, CahArch 43 (1995), 163180 Google Scholar, which overemphasises the importance of Melania. The architectural framework also plays a critical role in the iconography of the parakklesion of the Chora; see Ousterhout, R., ‘Temporal Structuring in the Chora Parekklesion’, Gesta 34 (1995), 6376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23. Ćuríić, S., Gracanica: King Milutin’s Church and its Place in Late Byzantine Architecture (University Park, PA. 1979), esp. 90100 and figs. 1720.Google Scholar

24. Sermon 28; trans. Mango, C., Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312–1453: Sources and Documents (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1972), 202203.Google Scholar

25. Cod. Marc. Gr. 524, fol. 22v, ed. Lambros, S., Neos Hellenomnemon 8/1 (1911), 2930 Google Scholar; trans. Mango, Art of the Byzantine Empire, 225.

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