Restoring Byzantium Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
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Virtual Reality: Inner Narthex, Bay 1

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Inner Narthex, Bay 1 © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


The Life of the Virgin
  • Scenes from the story of Joachim and Anne fill much of the northwest to southeast areas of the first bay of the inner narthex.
Joachim's Offerings Rejected is represented in the northwest pendentive below the dome [82]. The bearded priest Zaccharias is shown praying in the Temple, which looks much like the sanctuary of a Byzantine church.

Joachim in the Wilderness is in the southeast pendentive, showing a forlorn Joachim contemplating his misfortune [84].

The Annunciation to St. Anne is located in the partially preserved lunette below [85]. As she prays in the garden, an angel announces to Anne that she will bear a child.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate is on the arch between the first two bays and includes the happy Joachim meeting and embracing Anne at the gate of Jerusalem [86]. The scene is inscribed "The Conception of the Theotokos" ("Bearer of God").
  • Scenes from the story of Joseph and the Virgin fill the southwest area of the first bay of the inner narthex.
Joseph Taking the Virgin to His House is located on the arch between the second and first bays [97]. Accompanied by one of his sons, Joseph leads the Virgin. Here Joseph is one of the artist's experiments, a composite figure probably created from two different sketchbook models. Is he coming or going?

The Annunciation to the Virgin at the Well, is in the southwest pendentive of the first bay [98].  An angel announces to the Virgin that she will give birth. The drama is emphasized by the position of the Virgin, who seems to be flying.

Joseph Taking His Leave of the Virgin and Joseph Reproaching the Virgin, in the lunette of the first bay, when he returns from his trip to find his wife with child [99]. These scenes offer interesting parallels to the story of Joachim and Anne, with which the cycle began. Both Anne and the Virgin Mary are blessed with miraculous conceptions.

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 Professor Ousterhout for generously allowing us to adapt his text for this Web site.

The outer and inner narthexes are decorated with mosaic cycles of the lives of the Virgin and Christ. Both begin at the northern end, with thematic and visual references linking the two cycles.

Three bays of the inner narthex are devoted to the story of the Virgin, from miraculous birth to miraculous pregnancy. The unfamiliar subject is based on the Protevangelium, or Apocryphal Gospel of St. James, which was widely accepted during the Middle Ages. The Genealogy of Christ fills the two dome mosaics of the inner narthex in the northern and southern bays [7-81].  The mosaic encrusted domes are known as pumpkin domes with undulating, faceted surfaces. The result is multiple curves that capture the light from many angles, creating a shimmering surface and suffusing the interior with a golden glow.  The Bust of the Virgin, surrounded by the royal ancestry, is in the north dome and the Bust of Christ is in the south dome.

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© 2004 Columbia University in the City of New York | Miram & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery | Visual Media Center