Restoring Byzantium Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
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Virtual Reality: Outer Narthex, Bay 2

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Outer Narthex, Bay2 © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


Cycle of the Infancy of Christ and of Christ's Ministry
  • The second bay of the outer narthex includes scenes from both the Infancy cycle as well as the Ministry of Christ.
The Nativity, in the second lunette, displays standard Byzantine features [102]. The setting is a cave. The Virgin reclines on a mattress while Joseph ponders the miracle of the Virgin Birth. The Christ child appears twice, once in the manger, and once being bathed by midwives. Over the hill, angels and the star announce the birth to the shepherds.

Opposite the Nativity is Joseph Dreaming in the second lunette, north of the entrance. An angel informs him in a dream that it is safe to return to Palestine. This is followed by the Return of the Holy Family from Egypt [111]. Joseph carries the infant Christ piggyback as they return to Nazareth. The city fills the right side of the lunette.

John the Baptist Bearing Witness of Christ fills the domical vault of the second bay of the outer narthex in a circular composition [115]. On the north side, John the Baptist gestures toward Christ and testifies to his divinity, saying "This was He of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for He was before me." In a detail, a heron attacks a snake, perhaps symbolizing the overcoming of sin through baptism.

The Temptation of Christ, in the southern half of the second vault, shows four episodes of Christ being confronted by the Devil [116], divided into several scenes, including (1) the Devil challenges Christ to prove his divinity by changing the stones into bread; (2) Christ is offered the kingdoms of the world if he will worship the Devil; the kingdoms are represented in a small, fortified enclosure; (3) the Devil takes Christ to the mountaintop to show him the kingdoms, and (4) Christ stands on the pinnacle of the Temple, where the Devil asks him to prove his divinity by casting himself down unharmed.

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.

The cycle of the infancy of Christ
and of Christ's ministry 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 is taken up directly from the previous narrative. As in the inner narthex, the narratives are sometimes contorted to fit the domical vaults. Normally two different episodes appear in each vault.

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