Restoring Byzantium Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
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Virtual Reality: Naos

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Naos © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


The naos preserves a few mosaics. The vaults and upper walls were probably decorated with the major scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, the so-called Dodekaorton or 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.

To the left and right of the sanctuary are framed mosaic icons of Christ and the Virgin, who are shown in pendant images throughout the building. Christ's inscription is only partially preserved but originally read as "Dwelling-place (chora) of the Living" [186].  The Virgin is inscribed "Dwelling-place (chora) of the Uncontainable" [187].  Both play on the name of the monastery, Chora, giving it a mystical meaning as appellations of the Virgin and Christ.

The only remaining part of this decorative program is the Koimesis, or Dormition of the Virgin, above the western entrance [185]. Following a common Byzantine iconography, the Virgin lies on a funeral bier and is surrounded by the Apostles and other mourners. Behind her is Christ, who has descended in a blaze of glory to carry her soul—represented as a swaddled infant—up to heaven. Christ is garbed in gilded drapery, surrounded by a mandorla filled with elegant grisaille angels.

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