Restoring Byzantium Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery
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Virtual Reality: Outer Narthex, Bay 7

Turkey, Istanbul, Kariye Camii, Interior View: Outer Narthex, Bay 7 © Columbia University in the City of New York 2004


Cycle of the Infancy of Christ and of Christ's Ministry

The Return of the Magi to the East is in the east lunette of the seventh bay of the outer narthex above the arch leading to the parekklesion [105]. This is only partially preserved, showing a rider on a rearing horse.

The Flight into Egypt, in the south lunette of the seventh bay, is partially damaged [106]. According to tradition, while fleeing from the wrath of Herod the Holy Family passed the city of Sotinen in Egypt, whereupon the city's 365 pagan idols were destroyed leading to the conversion of the population. Statues are shown taking flying leaps from their pedestals. The Byzantines believed that pagan statues were animated by demons, which may explain their vivacity.

Only small fragments remain of the mosaics in the large domical vault in the seventh bay at the entrance to the parekklesion. At the south side the scene may be identified as Christ Calling Zacchaeus [132]. As Christ passed through Jericho, the publican Zacchaeus climbed a tree in order to see him.

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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