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chora_church03b The early fourteenth century rebuilding of the Chora included the reconstruction of the naos dome and the pastophoria, as well as the addition of a twostory annex to the north side, inner and outer narthices to the west, and the parekklesion to the south. The additions have proved to be the result of a single building campaign, but the irregularities of the plan are distinctive and have long confused scholars. Albert Lenoir, for example, who drew the building in the midnineteenth century, simply refused to admit that it was irregular (pl. 29, cat. III6). Indeed, the Kariye seems to lack an overall logic and appears as an incongruous juxtaposition of components. Both the complex design and scholarly confusion resulted from a number of factors. The utilization of the Middle Byzantine core of the building, the sloping site, and the varying functions of the ancillary chambers dictated special planning considerations and resulted in numerous compromises in the final construction. Moreover, repairs of the Ottoman period have altered many important aspects of the building, and an attempt at restoration is necessary to visualize the fourteenthcentury building. The most conspicuous changes are fairly recent. In the restoration of 1875-76, the undulating Byzantine roofline was leveled. The visual effect of this “improvement” was to make stagnant and lifeless what was once a dynamic silhouette and to accentuate the irregularities of the plan. Illustrations from the nineteenth century, however, including drawings by Alexandros Paspates (pl. 3 1, cat. III8) and Domenico Pulgher (pl. 16, cat. III9) and a unique photograph, show that the scalloped roofline was edged by a dogtooth cornice with bricks laid on a diagonal, which were partially or totally removed when the roofline was raised. The minor domes were similarly topped by scalloped dogtooth cornices, but when recovered, their cornices were leveled, giving the domes a “helmeted” appearance. The main dome, similar in form, had been replaced at an earlier date, perhaps following the earthquake of 1766. The church also had a bell tower, constructed in the southwest corner of the building but replaced by the present minaret. Most Byzantine belfries disappeared with the Turkish restrictions on the use of bells and the conversion of churches into mosques. Although there is no documentation of the belfry, it was probably of considerable size, covering the entire corner bay of the building. The original arches of this bay were given a double thickness in construction, but this evidently proved ineffective under the weight of the structure; probably within a few decades of the initial construction, the arches required reinforcement of columns supporting masonry arches. The extra thickness in the south wall, decorated on the exterior by ogival arches containing the monograms of Metochites, housed the spiral staircase leading to the upper levels of the belfry. Like the surviving belfries at Mistra or in Macedonia, the tower was probably three stories tall and domed, with stairs leading only to the second level. The external features of the belfry surely complemented the lively detailing of the building. The form of the west façade has also been radically changed. Beginning in the middle of the fourteenth century, the arches were blocked, and three were transformed into arcosolia for tombs. The excavations of the 1950s demonstrated that the lower portion of each arched opening was filled by a closure slab topped by a balustrade. Above the balustrade, the arcades were left open so that the outer narthex formed a portico. The main portal of the central opening is composed of reused, poorly fitted marble pieces that must have been added when the other bays were closed. Because of these alterations, the fourteenth-century building must have appeared significantly different than it does today. The presence of a belfry, for example, would dramatically alter the visual composition. It would appear that symmetry was not a major concern in the overall design. The irregularities of the building vanish amid the wealth of detail, the dynamic silhouette, and the exuberant outward appearance. Refinements are localized and small scale; parts are related to each other but not to the whole; variety is more important than symmetry. The north narthex dome, for example, is adjusted to its position in relation to the north annex, hiding its irregular roofline. But no attempt has been made to relate it to the south half of the facade; the two narthex domes are of different sizes and asymmetrically positioned. As if to emphasize the love of variety, the external articulation of the parekklesion dome differs from both of these.

The articulation of the wall displays the coloristic effects of light and shade. There were strong contrasts in the west façade between the dark recesses and the pastel tones of the piers, the latter broken by the alternating bands of brick and stone and by the consistent use of twostepped responds and engaged columns. All this was topped by the subtle contrasts and undulating rhythm of the dogtooth cornices. The wall was never left as a plain surface. To be sure, the love of decoration led to some illogical solutions. For example, on the south facade, the system of half columns and responds does not fit with the structural system of the building or with the interior articulation, and we find half columns illogically supporting windows.

Special functional requirements may have also played a role in the unusual design. For example, in addition to an annexed funeral chapel for privileged burials, many aristocratic churches were provided with a private room for the founder on the gallery level, usually positioned above the narthex. While other considerations did not allow a narthex gallery at the Chora, the twostory annex on the north side of the building included a room on the upper level that may have served as the library of Theodore Metochites. It includes a window overlooking the naos, from which the founder could “hear the sweet singing of the monks” as he devoted himself to his scholarship. In a like manner, the south bay of the inner narthex – out of scale and asymmetrically positioned – seems to have had a special function in the monastery. Dominated by the huge Deesis mosaic on its east wall, the space may have functioned as a sort of founder’s chapel, honoring the memories of the previous imperial benefactors, two of whom are represented in the dedicatory mosaic.

If we take into consideration such special functional requirements as these, as well as a decorative aesthetic oriented toward lavish surface ornamentation and principles of planning that broke the building into individually articulated components, we arrive at an approach toward architecture that not only allowed but perhaps encouraged irregularities. The guiding principles of Palaiologan architecture must be recognized as quite different from the rational, structural principles of the Middle Byzantine period. The treatment of architectural forms in evidence at the Kariye has much in common with the contemporary, socalled mannerist phase in the twodimensional arts.

Like the mosaics and frescoes, the architecture of the Kariye is similarly artfully distorted, chaotic, asymmetrical, and decorative. If we isolate a single figure, for example, Joseph, from Joseph Taking the Virgin to His House, compositional attitudes similar to those seen in the architecture are evident. Students of life drawing would cringe at this figure – we are not sure if he is coming or going. Yet, if each specific feature is analyzed independently, it is more than satisfactory in itself. The artist is composing on a small scale, of individual bits and pieces, without attempting to relate the pieces to the whole.

References * Van Millingen, Alexander (1912). Byzantine Churches of Constantinople. London: MacMillan & Co. * Ousterhout, Robert (2002). The Art of the Kariye Camii. London-Istanbul: Scala. ISBN 975-6899-76-x.
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kcrevby Robert Ousterhout, author of The Art of the Kariye Camii Article with historic photgraphs published in Cornucopia 27 The dramatic mosaics and frescoes of Istanbul’s Kariye Camii, or Church of the Chora, blew away the stiff conventions of Byzantine art. Their energy leaves Giotto looking staid. But theyare now in danger of turning to dust. The powerful pictures on these pages are from a new book by Robert Ousterhout, who fell in love with the church twenty-five years ago. Here he makes a passionate case for preserving this fourteenth-century masterpiece When I first set foot in the Kariye Camii years ago, I fell in love. It was the academic equivalent of a blind date – I’d committed myself, sight unseen, to write a PhD dissertation about a building I’d never seen in a city I’d never visited. Happily, the Kariye caught and held my interest. In fact, the Kariye proved to be the perfect blind date, possessing both beauty and brains. As I quickly discovered, the dazzling spectacle of its mosaics and frescoes was balanced by a coherent architectural framework and by firm intellectual underpinnings. It is one of Istanbul’s greatest treasures, once the main church of the Byzantine monastery of the Chora, and now a well-visited museum. Built and decorated between 1316 and 1321, the Kariye represents the patronage of Theodore Metochites, one of Byzantium’s greatest intellectuals, who was both an accomplished poet and prime minister. As sophisticated and erudite as a contemporary work of Byzantine literature, the Kariye is structured like a vast epic poem. Theodore Metochites, famously depicted above the entrance in his big hat, was not only a powerful politician and the greatest scholar of his age, but he was also fabulously wealthy – the ideal patron for a project like the Kariye. More importantly, he was fortunate to find artists capable of translating his vision into built form. The hothouse conditions Metochites provided led to one of the most experimental periods of Byzantine art. If the word originality can be applied to the Byzantine, the Kariye is as original as it gets. As the art historian Otto Demus once commented, at first glance the art of the Kariye seems to have no acknowledged canons, as if the artists preferred the abnormal to the normal, the distorted to the regular, the chaotic to the harmonious. It is the Byzantine equivalent of Postmodernism, breaking all the rules, but doing so in such a delightful way that we barely notice. As the key monument of late Byzantine art and architecture, there is absolutely nothing that can compare with it in Istanbul, or anywhere else for that matter. Ten years after my first encounter, I was still in love with the Kariye. Our relationship had survived the dissertation, the revisions and, finally, the publication of the monograph. Then, after twenty-five years, I celebrated our silver anniversary with the publication of a second book. Although I began with a study of bricks and mortar, I found I couldn’t ignore the mosaics and frescoes. To be sure, I have been involved in a variety of other projects, but I keep coming back to the Kariye. With its intricate architectural settings and its wealth of decoration, with each visit I seem to discover something new. On my last, for example, I started noticing the trees, how and where they are represented: in addition to a variety of expressive stumps and shrubbery in the mosaics, I realised that David of Thessaloniki, a dendrite (that is, a hermit who sat in a tree) shown at the entrance to the funeral chapel, is positioned equidistant from Christ Calling Zaccheus (who had climbed a tree in order to see Christ as he passed through Jericho) and Moses Before the Burning Bush. In each, we witness an encounter with the divine – Old Testament, New Testament, Byzantine. Byzantine poets loved this kind of comparison. On an earlier visit, a friend pointed out how the drama and violence in the mosaic of the soldier pursuing Elizabeth with the infant John the Baptist (the last scene in the cycle of the Massacre of the Innocents) is emphasised by the soldier’s sword severing Elizabeth’s name in the inscription: eli-sabeth. Words and images work together. Guidebooks are quick to point out the contemporaneity of the Kariye with the work of Giotto – as if we needed the Italian Renaissance to appreciate Byzantine art. There is certainly a similar power and sense of life in both, but the Byzantine artist worked differently from his Italian counterpart. Giotto developed an early system of perspective, so that his scenes appear as if viewed through a window, in a space beyond the picture plane. In contrast, for the Byzantine artist, pictorial space and the space occupied by the viewer were one and the same. As a consequence, the scenes at the Kariye have a greater sense of immediacy and are thus more emotionally compelling. What is more, the setting for the art is not the flat walls of a big anonymous box (the typical Italian church), but rather a series of small, tightly interlocking spaces, in which architectural form and decoration are perfectly fitted together. We are led – personally, experientially – from one space to the next by the narrative, by the gestures of the figures and by the visual and thematic connections between the scenes. The Byzantine artist did not attempt to create an artificial space through the science of perspective; instead, he created three-dimensional representations that come to life as we interact with them. Where else can we walk through the midst of the Last Judgment, with the scroll of heaven rolled up above our heads, flanked by the blessed and the damned? The Kariye owes its preservation to the vagaries of history. It is set in what was originally a rural area by the land walls – the name Chora may be translated as “in the fields” – in the northern corner of the city, which became a hub of activity in the late Byzantine period, with the nearby Blachernae Palace as the main imperial residence. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, however, the centre shifted back to the end of the peninsula, to Topkapi Palace, and the Chora church became an all-but-forgotten neighbourhood mosque. Through the early Ottoman centuries, its decoration remained uncovered and, in fact, was never completely covered. The frescoes were whitewashed, some of the lower mosaics were removed, but the dome mosaics remained visible, and some of the wall panels were covered with wooden doors – to be opened to visitors for a small tip. When the Byzantine Institute of America undertook its extensive programme of cleaning and consolidation between 1948 and 1960, the surviving mosaics and frescoes were discovered to be in pristine condition. Not so today. Both the Kariye and I are older than when we first met. The rapid growth of Istanbul’s population has increased the levels of humidity and pollution throughout the city. Crowds of visitors have also raised the level of humidity inside the building, which may be compounded by the lush garden planted close to its foundations, as well as by leaks in the roof and windows. The results are all too visible: in the parekklesion (the funeral chapel) the painted plaster has crumbled away at floor level, and efflorescence, or “bloom” (dampness causing salts to leach through the plaster and collect as a cloudy white substance on the surface), now obscures many painted scenes. For example, Theophanes the Hymnographer is represented below the dome in the parekklesion. He pauses while writing a funeral ode on the theme of Jacob’s Ladder as a guarantee of our access to heaven, holding his pen to point towards the adjacent scene of Jacob’s Ladder and, beneath it, the tomb of Theodore Metochites. His meaningful gesture, which served visually to connect these several elements of the composition, is now all but invisible. A similar cloud of bloom obscures the Daughter of Jairus, raised from the dead by the hand of Christ, as well as the figure of Satan bound and gagged in the great fresco of the Anastasis (the Resurrection) which forms the visual termination of the parekklesion. Within the mosaics, protective covers of Perspex have created micro-environments in which the humidity is concentrated, causing the setting plaster to crumble. What is to be done? First, a careful evaluation of the building, its mosaics and frescoes, is required, followed by a comprehensive programme of conservation, regular monitoring, and possibly the installation of climate controls. In France, the Lascaux caves, with their famous prehistoric paintings, have been closed to tourism and the interior environment sealed, controlled and carefully monitored. Even the scientists are allowed only limited access. It may be that nothing quite so drastic is required at the Kariye, but as a new government is elected, it might be worth reminding it that the long-term preservation of Turkey’s unique cultural heritage deserves greater priority than the quick-fix economics of tourism. As I escorted a friend’s aged grandmother through the Kariye recently, it occurred to me that old buildings are like grandparents. We love them just as much in their old age. But they require periodic check-ups and regular care – and occasionally treatment by specialists and prescription medicines. I am still in love with the Kariye Camii, but right now it needs urgent medical attention. © Robert Ousterhout Robert Ousterhout’s earlier book, ‘The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul’ (Dumbarton Oaks Studies 25, 1987), is available from
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thomaswhittemoreIn 1948, Thomas Whittemore (1871 – 1950) and Paul A. Underwood, from the Byzantine Institute of America and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, sponsored a programme for restoration of the Chora Church in Istanbul. Thomas Whittemore was a scholar, archaeologist and the founder of the Byzantine Institute of America. He was born in Cambridge,Massachusetts in 1871. His good personal relationship with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder and the first president of the Turkish Republic, enabled him to gain permission from the Turkish government to start the preservation of the Hagia Sophia mosaics in 1931.
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TheodoreMetochites01b Complexity appears more important than monumentality in the architecture of the Kariye, and in the hierarchy of function each unit is clearly defined visually. The architecture parallels the elegantly mannered style of the art it houses, full of figures with strange postures and different views connected by a decorative veneer, the extended evocative narratives, and the obscure allusions – all part of the artful breaking of established rules. Even the marble revetments betray a restless mannerism. In the inner narthex, the repeated patterns consciously avoid the architectural divisions: the framing bands never occur at the pilasters but instead provide a visual counter point to the architectural framework. Similarly, along the south facade, the rhythm of pilasters is quickened, with pilasters and halfcolumns illogically positioned to “support” the windows. Details such as these are odd, to say the least.

These stylistic traits may be associated with the patronage of Theodore Metochites, who as an author was selfconscious about his own originality. Significant parallels to the art of the Chora can be found in his mannered and obsessive literary style. Like his writings, the complex style of the Chora can be understood as an expression of the personality of Metochites the intellectual. The intricacies and subtleties would have been missed by the average visitor, but they would have been appreciated by Metochites’ coterie of aristocratic intellectuals. In fact, they may have been intended to distinguish the true intellectual from the common rabble. Like postmodernism, the style of the Chora had snob appeal.

Theodore Metochites was fortunate to find a master mason and painter who were, in artistic terms at least, his equal. The clever artist responsible for the decorative program responded to the restless intellect and the ego of the patron. Through the careful manipulation of the architectural space and the painted program, he subtly draws attention to the benefactor: from certain vantage points, the viewer is positioned to pay homage to Theodore Metochites. In the parekklesion, for example, the viewer who pauses to admire the panoramic sweep of the decoration stops directly in front of the founder’s tomb. The gestures and lines within the fresco compositions also lead ultimately to the tomb of Metochites. Yet, in spite of his ambition and his many accomplishments, Theodore Metochites proved to be all too mortal. He was selfcentered, anxious, and sensitive. He was proud of his hardwon culture and status, which in his mind were inextricably connected. Metochites’ life was unhappy, in many ways a failure. He was rich, but at the expense of the poor. He achieved great stature only to fall dramatically from power in the palace coup of 1328. Despised by his contemporaries, ousted from office, and stripped of his worldly wealth, he died a simple monk. As the noted Byzantinist Ihor Ševcenko insists, Metochites nevertheless deserves our admiration: “To have given us the Chora he had to be a man of wealth, taste, and intelligence. He did not have to be a perfect gentleman.”

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MF01b A well preserved, lavishly decorated Byzantine church like the Chora can be read on severaldifferent levels. For the simple monk of Byzantine times or for the uninitiated tourist of today, its decoration presents illustrations from holy books – subjects occasionally familiar, occasionally obscure. On another level, the themes and subjects of the decorative program resonate with movements and verses of the Byzantine liturgy, and the art of the Chora can be understood as a reflection of the rituals that marked the daily life of a monastic church. On yet another level, the art of the Chora reflects the patronage of one of Byzantium‘s greatest intellectuals; it is as sophisticated and erudite as a work of contemporary Byzantine literature, structured like a vast epic poem. 

The fourteenthcentury artists responsible for the decoration of Theodore Metochites‘ church began with the mosaics of the naos, then continued with the mosaic narrative programs and icons in the narthices, and concluded with the frescoes of the parekklesion. A trained eye can detect a stylistic progression in the paintings: they become more exuberant and mannered. The patron seems to have provided “hothouse conditions” for the painters to develop their personal styles, which mark a critical point in the history of Byzantine art. 

The style of the painting has been eloquently described by Otto Demus, who noted that, at first glance, the art seems to have no acknowledged canons, as if the artists preferred the abnormal to the normal, the distorted to the regular, the chaotic to the harmonious. On closer scrutiny, however, it reveals a canon of taste no less well defined than sixteenthcentury Italian mannerism. Decorative motifs are used to join otherwise disparate elements, with much adjustment to fit irregular spaces. The architectural backdrops are like stage sets, replete with draperies, shrubbery, and incidental details. The tendency is toward the disintegration of the composition; equilibrium is unimportant and is replaced by asymmetry, instability, and unrest. Figures have oddly contorted postures and sometimes seem to fly through the air instead of being firmly attached to the ground; their draperies flutter in lively arabesques. 

In part, the mannered artistic style came as a response to the architectural framework. The process of fitting the narrative scenes onto irregular surfaces lunettes, domical vaults, and pendentives – encouraged the distortion of the composition, perhaps most evident in the scenes from the Life of the Virgin in the inner narthex. At the same time, the artists were experimenting with compositions and figures. The compositions are based on an accumulation of details, understood on a small scale, and the whole is held together by a decorative veneer. Individual figures are seen in many unusual postures and from many different points of view, perhaps copied from sketchbooks, but each derived from a variety of sources.

In short, the Kariye Camii represents Byzantine art at its most experimental. In many ways, it offers a Byzantine version of postmodernism, in which the style is based both on quoting details from the past and on breaking the established rules in an attempt to create a new mode of expression. Its intellectualizing aesthetic would have appealed to connoisseurs like Theodore Metochites and his elite coterie. With the richness of the themes and imagery at the Kariye, one may easily overlook the style of the painting. But this was a critical element in the artistic expression, a part of the intellectual underpinnings that unify the building and its art.

Metochites explained the main purpose of the decoration of the church as relating “in mosaics and painting, how the Lord Himself… became a mortal man on our behalf.” Accordingly, the elaborate program focuses on interconnected themes of incarnation and Salvation. The surviving scenes include the Old Testament ancestors of Christ and Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin foretelling the virgin birth – as well as cycles of the lives of Christ and of the Virgin, and the Last Judgment. 

The naos preserves its fourteenthcentury marble revetments almost in their entirety but very little of its mosaics. The vaults and upper walls of the church were probably decorated with the most important scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, the socalled Dodekaorton, or Twelve-Feast Cycle, as was standard in a Byzantine church, along with a bust of Christ in the dome and the Virgin enthroned in the apse. Of these, only the Koimesis, or Dormition of the Virgin, survives, along with standing figures of Christ and the Virgin on the piers to either side of the entrance to the bema. Because of the dual dedication of the church to the Virgin and Christ, the figures almost always appear as pendant images. The “gender symmetry” emphasized the role of the Virgin in the process of salvation. Moreover, the positioning of images within the architectural setting encourages a visual interplay that enhances their meaning. For example, the pose of the Virgin holding the infant Christ is mirrored in that of Christ, who holds the swaddled soul of the Virgin in the Koimesis: in one the Virgin appears as the vehicle by which Christ is brought to earth; in the other Christ appears as the vehicle by which the Virgin is carried to heaven. The two themes suggested by these images, incarnation and salvation, dominate the narrative programs of the church.

There are also numerous iconic images in the narthices as well. Many of these also reflect the dual dedication of the church and monastery. A bustlength image of Christ, labeled chora ton zoonton (dwelling place of the living), appears above the doorway leading from the outer narthex to the inner narthex. The facing image of the Virgin, labeled chora ton archoretou (container of the uncontamable), is depicted “containing” the Christ child in her womb. An oversized dedicatory image usually called the Deesis (prayer) appears in the enlarged southern bay of the inner narthex; it depicts Christ and the Virgin with the former founders Isaak Komnenos and the nun Melanie kneeling at their feet. Other framed images of standing saints decorate the pilasters of the narthices, and additional standing and bust-length images of saints decorate the arches. This “choir of saints” would also have provided points of focus for private devotion within the church. The terminal bays of the inner narthex are covered by domes crowned with bust images of Christ and the Virgin, surrounded by their Old Testament ancestors. 

The lunettes and vaults of the narthices are decorated with cycles of the lives of the Virgin and of Christ. All begin at the northern end of their respective spaces, with thematic and visual references linking them. Three bays of the inner narthex are devoted to the story of the Virgin, from her miraculous birth to the elderly Joachim and Anna, to her childhood in the temple, her marriage to the elderly Joseph, and her miraculous pregnancy. The story is based on the Protoevangelium (or Apocryphal Gospel of Saint James), which was widely accepted during the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, the beginning of the cycle is broken by a structural crack in the north bay. Except for this damage, the inner narthex is one of the most satisfying spaces in the building, preserving its lavish original coverings on the floor, walls, and vaults. 

The cycle of the Infancy of Christ is represented in the lunettes of the outer narthex, while its domical vaults are decorated with scenes of the ministry and miracles of Christ. Both cycles are based on the accounts in the Gospels and begin in the north bay. The Infancy Cycle commences with the Dream of Joseph, in which an angel assures him of the Virgin’s miraculous conception. This is followed by the Journey to Bethlehem and the exceptional episode of the Enrollment for Taxation, probably included because Theodore Metochites was the minister of the treasury and responsible for tax collection. The Nativity of Christ is set to parallel the Birth of the Virgin in the inner narthex. The stories of the Journey of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, and the Massacre of the Innocents are then represented in multiple scenes. The cycle concludes with the Return of the Holy Family from Egypt and the youthful Christ being taken to Jerusalem. 

The cycle of the Ministry and Miracles begins in the domical vault of the first bay of the outer narthex and concludes in the south bay of the inner narthex. The story proceeds directly from the conclusion of the previous narrative, with Christ in the Temple of Jerusalem, now almost entirely lost. As with scenes in the inner narthex, the narratives are sometimes stretched and contorted to fit into the domical vaults. Usually, two different episodes appear in each vault. Several areas of mosaic are missing in this cycle, but almost all of the scenes can be identified, including John the Baptist proclaiming Christ and the Temptation of Christ. The other vaults are filled with numerous scenes of Christ’s preaching and healing miracles. 

In a like manner, the diagonal angles of the sarcophagi of Adam and Eve in the Anastasis lead the eye toward the tomb arcosolia along the lateral walls, just as the unique domical composition of the Last Judgment envelops them – as if the tombs have become part of the composition. Artistically, the parekklesion may be best understood not so much as a fresco program set into an architectural space as an architectural space that has become an integral part of its decoration. 

Throughout the building, Old Testament and New Testament themes are related: the prefigurations of the Virgin in the parekklesion – as the Ark of the Covenant, the Burning Bush, or a walled city – hark back to the images of containers and to the theme of the Virgin as the “container of the uncontainable” in the outer narthex. Similarly, a visual mimesis associates various images and themes. For example, the positions of Adam and Eve raised by Christ in the Anastasis fresco recall the proskynesis of the angels flanking the Virgin in the dedicatory image above the main entrance in the outer narthex: the ultimate image of salvation recalls the premiere image of the Incarnation. In a like manner, the flowing red robe of Eve in the Anastasis mimics the form of the fiery stream of hell in the Last Judgment, subtly calling to mind simultaneously the fall of man and his ultimate salvation – and adding nuance to the gender symmetry of the program.

Minor details also encourage more complex readings: for example, David of Thessaloniki, a dendrite (that is, a hermit who sat in a tree) shown at the entrance to the parekklesion, is positioned equidistant between Christ Calling Zaccheus (who had climbed a tree in order to see Christ as he passed through Jericho) and Moses before the Burning Bush. In each, we witness an encounter with the divine – Old Testament, New Testament, Byzantine. Even the inscriptions enhance the visual expression of the images: for example, the drama and violence in the Soldier Pursuing Elisabeth with the Infant John the Baptist (the last scene in the cycle of the Massacre of the Innocents) is emphasized by the soldier’s sword severing Elisabeth’s name in the inscription: ELI//SABETH. In sum, both in style and iconography, the Kariye Camn is a masterwork, its mosaics and frescoes creatively coordinated within a complex architectural setting.

The Wedding at Cana and the Multiplication of Loaves are taken out of their proper chronological sequence to be placed on the central axis of the outer narthex, with images of vessels of wine and baskets of bread dominating the scenes. Containers with the Eucharist are set before the image of the Virgin as “container of the uncontainable” and thus mark the beginning of a liturgical axis that led to the altar, where the communion was administered. Similarly, in the inner narthex, the scenes associated with the temple (represented as the sanctuary of a Byzantine church) are clustered on the main axis leading to the sanctuary.

Like the program of the narthices, the program of the parekklesion is divided between the Virgin and Christ. Here, however, the overriding theme is salvation, as befits a funeral chapel. Arched tombs, or arcosolia, line the walls of the chapel, which is decorated with fresco, rather than mosaic and marble revetments. The lower walls are painted to resemble marble paneling, forming a dado, and the walls are filled with standing figures of saints. The western domed bay is devoted to the Virgin; the upper walls in this area represent Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin, emphasizing her role in salvation. The scenes and inscribed verses are drawn from the special readings for the feast days of the Virgin. She appears in the dome, surrounded by a heavenly host of angels. In contrast, the eastern bay is devoted to the Last Judgment, flanked by the punishments of the damned and the entry of the elect into paradise. The complex program of the chapel culminates in the conch of the apse, where the Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell) is represented: Christ, clad magnificently in white, having broken down the gates of hell, raises Adam and Eve from their sarcophagi, with Satan bound and gagged at his feet. To either side are scenes in which Christ raises a man and a woman from the dead. 

The program of the parekklesion establishes evocative links between past (Old and New Testament scenes), present (the deceased in their tombs), and future (the end of time represented by the Last Judgment), offering assurances of salvation for those interred here. For example, the tomb of Theodore Metochites is set beneath the main dome, in which the Virgin is represented as Queen of Heaven. On the wall immediately above his tomb is the scene of Jacob’s Ladder, while in the pendentive above it the hymnographer Theophanes is shown composing a funeral ode on the subject of Jacob’s Ladder as a guarantee of access to heaven. Theophanes pauses, pointing his pen toward the tomb of Metochites. Similarly, in the Last Judgment, Christ gestures toward an image of a soul (usually interpreted as that of Theodore Metochites) presented for judgment by Saint Michael, and toward the tomb of Metochites himself. 
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