Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 3

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VI. The Byzantine Corinthian.--This is the commonest form of capital in the later churches, and must have been in continuous use from the earliest date. It occurs in S. John of the Studion, the Diaconissa, the Chora, and in many other churches. Here the cla.s.sic form is accurately adhered to, but, as the curved abacus was unsuitable to the arch, a large splayed abacus or impost block is placed above the capital. It is a general feature of the Byzantine capital that it projects at no point beyond the impost line of the arch, thus differing both from the cla.s.sic and the Gothic forms.

VII. The Windblown Acanthus.--This is found in the churches of Salonica and Ravenna. Three examples are mentioned as seen in Constantinople, two near the Diaconissa, forming bases for the posts of a wooden porch to a house; one is the cistern commonly known as the cistern of Pulcheria.

_Window Capitals._--In shafted window of several lights, the impost piers between the arches are of the full thickness of the wall, but are very narrow from side to side. Similarly the shafts are almost slabs placed across the wall, and sometimes, as in the Pammakaristos, are carved on their narrow faces. The capitals are cubical, of slight projection at the sides, but spreading widely at the ends, while the bases closely resemble capitals turned upside down. As with columns, the joints at base and necking are bedded in sheet lead.

_Floors._--The floors are usually of thick red brick tiles, some .31 cm.

square, or, as in S. Theodore, hexagonal, .34 cm. across by 45 cm. from point to point. Marble floors were used when possible, inlaid with patterns, or in slabs surrounded by borders of coloured marbles, as is still seen in a portion of the floor in the Pantokrator (Fig. 76).

_Decoration._--Of the churches of Constantinople only S. Sophia, S. Mary Diaconissa, the South Church of the Pantokrator, and the Chora, retain any considerable part of their original decoration. The first is beyond our present scope, but from the general tone and atmosphere which still linger there we are able to appreciate the effect of the same style of decoration where it survives in less complete form.

The accepted method, as may be observed in the Chora and the Diaconissa, was to split marble slabs so as to form patterns in the veining, and then to place them upright on the wall. It is probable that the finest slabs were first placed in the centre points of the wall, and that other slabs or borders were then arranged round them. The centre slabs in the Chora are of exceptional beauty. The usual design consists of a dado of upright slabs surmounted by panelling to the cornice level, the panels being outlined with plain or carved beads. In the Diaconissa the notched dentil form is used for the beads; in the Chora, a 'bead and reel.' The arches have radiating voussoirs, or, in the Diaconissa, a zigzag embattled design, found also in S. Demetrius of Salonica, though two hundred years must have separated the buildings. In the Chora the arch spandrils and cornice are inlaid with scroll and geometrical designs in black, white, and coloured marbles.

The surfaces above the cornice and the interior of the domes gleamed with mosaic, representing, as seen in the Chora, figures on a gold background. The mosaic cubes are small, measuring 5 mm. to 7 mm., and are closely set. This is about the same size as the mosaic cubes in S.

Sophia, but smaller than those at Ravenna, which measure about 10 mm.

_Painting._--In the majority of churches this full decoration with marble and mosaic must have been rendered impossible by the expense, and accordingly we find examples like the parecclesion at the Chora decorated with painting, following exactly the tradition of marble and mosaic. This painting is in tempera on the plaster, and is executed with a free and bold touch.

_Conclusion._--Byzantine architecture is essentially an art of s.p.a.ces.

'Architectural' forms, as we are accustomed to think of them, are noticeably absent, but as compensation, colour was an essential and inseparable part of the architecture. The builder provided great uninterrupted s.p.a.ces broken only by such lines and features as were structurally necessary--capitals, columns, string-courses, and over these s.p.a.ces the artist spread a glittering robe of marble or mosaic.

No school has ever expressed its structure more simply, or given fuller scope to the artist, whether architect or painter.

Byzantine architecture is not only a school of construction, it is also a school of painting. Most of the churches of Constantinople have unfortunately lost the latter part of their personality. They are mere ghosts, their skeletons wrapped in a shroud of whitewash. Still the Greek artist retained his skill to the last, and the decorative work of S. Saviour in the Chora will stand comparison even with the similar work in S. Sophia.

In Byzantine times the greatness of S. Sophia tended to crush compet.i.tion. No other ecclesiastical building approached the 'Great Church.' But structural ability was only latent, and displayed its old power again in the erection of the imperial mosques of the early Turkish Sultans, for they too are monuments of Greek architectural genius.

The origins of Byzantine architecture have been discussed at great length by Strzygowski, Rivoira, and many other able writers. Much work still remains to be done in the investigation of the later Roman and early Byzantine work; nor does it seem probable that the difficult questions of the Eastern or the Western origin of Byzantine art will ever be finally settled.

The beginnings of Byzantine architecture have never been satisfactorily accounted for. With S. Sophia it springs almost at once into full glory; after S. Sophia comes the long decline. It may, however, be noted that the 'endings' of Roman architecture are similarly obscure. Such buildings as the Colosseum, in which the order is applied to an arched building, are evidently transitional, the Roman construction and the Greek decoration, though joined, not being merged into one perfect style. Even in the baths and other great buildings of Imperial Rome the decoration is still Greek in form and not yet fully adapted to the arched construction. At Spalatro, in such parts as the Porta Aurea, a developed style seems to be on the point of emerging, but it is not too much to say that in no great Roman building do we find a perfect and h.o.m.ogeneous style.

There is nothing in either the planning or the construction of S. Sophia which cannot be derived from the buildings of the Roman Imperial period, with the exception of the pendentive, a feature which had to be evolved before the dome could be used with freedom on any building plan on a square. The great brick-concrete vaulted construction is that of the Roman baths, and with this is united a system of decoration founded on the cla.s.sic models, but showing no trace of the Greek beam tradition which had ruled in Rome.

S. Sophia then may be regarded as the culminating point of one great Roman-Byzantine school, of which the art of cla.s.sic Rome shows the rise, and the later Byzantine art the decline. This view is in accord with history, for Constantinople was New Rome, and here, if anywhere, we should expect to find preserved the traditions of Old Rome.

The division of Western Mediaeval Architecture into the two schools of Romanesque and Gothic presents a parallel case. It is now realised that no logical separation can be made between the two so-called styles.

Similarly we may continue to speak of the Cla.s.sic Roman style and of the Byzantine style, although the two really belong to one great era in the history of art.

[10] _Eastern Palestine Memoirs_, p. 172. A similar dome is given by Choisy, _L'Art de batir chez les Byzantins_, Plate XV.

[11] De Vogue, _Syrie centrale_, i. p. 45, Plate VII.

[12] Durm, _Handbuch_, Part II. vol. iii. pp. 115, 149. A restored plan is given in Lethaby's _Mediaeval Art_, p. 47.

[13] _Orient oder Rom_, p. 19.

[14] _Kleinasien_, p. 152.

[15] _Kleinasien_, p. 121 _et seq._

[16] Oskar Wulf, _Die Koimesiskirche in Nikaea_, p. 71.

[17] H. Rott, _Kleinasiensche Denkmaler_, p. 329.

[18] Wulf, _op. cit._ p. 23.

[19] For local variations in late churches in Greece, see Traquair's 'Churches of Western Mani,' _Annual of British School at Athens_, xv.


[20] Strzygowski, 'Das Etschmiadzin Evangeliar,' _Byzant. Denkmaler_, i., 1891.

[21] Ravanica, F. Kanitz, _Serbiens byzantische Monumente_, Wien, 1862.

[22] Pullan and Texier, _S. Elias._

[23] G. Lampakis, _Les Antiquites chretiennes de la Grece_, Athens, 1902.

[24] Schultz and Barnsley, _The Monastery of S. Luke at Stiris_, p.

13, fig. 6.

[25] See, however, North Church in S. Mary, Panachrantos, p. 128.

[26] Strzygowski's views as to the early date of the drum-dome are not universally accepted. The examples he produces seem rather octagons carried up from the ground to give a clearstory under the dome than true drums interposed between the dome and its pendentives.

[27] _Annual B.S.A._ xii. 1905-6. See also Schultz and Barnsley, _Monastery of S. Luke at Stiris_.

[28] See p. 154.

[29] Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem. S. Mary Peribleptos; see _Vida de Gran Tamorlan y itinerario del Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo_, p. 52.

[30] _L'Art de batir chez les Byzantins_, p. 57.

[31] _Ibid._ p. 99.

[32] _Sancta Sophia_, p. 219.

[33] _L'Art de batir chez les Byzantins_, p. 135.

[34] Hasluck, 'Bithynica,' _Annual B.S.A._ XIII. 1906-7.



The mosque Emir Ahor Jamissi, situated in the quarter of Psamathia, near the modern Greek church of S. Constantine, and at short distance from the Golden Gate (Yedi Koule), is the old church of S. John the Baptist, which was a.s.sociated with the celebrated monastery of Studius, [Greek: he mone tou Stoudiou]. It may be reached by taking the train from Sirkiji Iskelessi to Psamathia or Yedi Koule.[35]

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Byzantine Churches in Constantinople Part 3 summary

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