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The pictorial decoration of St. Savior in Chora (Kariye Camii) was begun with (1) the mosaics in the naos, then continued with (2) the mosaic narratives in the outer and inner narthexes, oncluding with (3) the frescoes of the parekklesion. The artistic style of the mosaics and frescoes reveal a well-defined canon of taste. In compositions, decoration is used to join otherwise disparate elements, adjusting 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 replaced by asymmetry, instability, and unrest. Figures have contorted postures, and sometimes seem to fly, their draperies fluttering in lively arabesques.

In part, the mannered style was a response to the architecture. Fitting the narrative scenes onto the domical vaults and pendentives (the triangular corners joining the vault to the arches) encouraged the distortion of the composition, as in the inner narthex. The compositions are based on the accumulation of details, and the whole is held together by a decorative veneer. Individual figures are seen in unusual postures and from different viewpoints; they were probably derived from a variety of sources, including sketchbooks.
  • The following text is arranged according to the individual bays of the building as they appear in the QuickTime Virtual Reality panoramas and as a visitor today would tour the building.  The iconographic narrative, however, sometimes digresses from following the arrangement of the architectural divisions, and such digressions will be noted where appropriate. 

  • Numbers in square brackets refer to the diagrams in Paul Underwood, The Kariye Camii, 4 volumes, New York, 1966.
This discussion of the Kariye Camii iconography is adapted from Robert G. Ousterhout, The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul, Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1987.  We would like to thank Prof. Ousterhout for generously allowing us to adapt his text for this Web site.

Outer narthex bay: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7
Inner narthex bay: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Parekklesion apse and bays 1 | 2
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