Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Zoe and Constantine IX mosaic

Era 11AD
Location Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Placement East wall of the south gallery

Christ is enthroned in the centre, blessing with his right hand and holding a book in his left. To his right, an emperor, identified in an inscription above his head as Constantine Monomachos, Constantine IX, offers a bulging bag of money to Christ. To Christ’s left, an empress, identified in turn as Zoe, holds a scroll bearing the emperor’s name that she offers to Christ. Consequently, the mosaic, assuming that it was the commission of the individuals shown, must date to the period of 1042 (when Zoe and Constantine were married) to 1050 (when she died). This is an image where the personal message of the patron is abundantly clear. Constantine and Zoe, the philanthropic and virtuous imperial couple, donate gifts to the church and so to Christ; they are shown in his presence, as befits their righteous standing; and they receive his blessing as good emperors ruling in a Christian fashion under God. The space in the south gallery where the panel is located may have been private imperial space, and so these may not have been meant as public images, though they are visible from within the body of the church


All three heads, emperor, empress and Christ himself, have been altered, as has the inscription above the emperor and that on the scroll held by the empress. This makes it clear that only the emperor’s name and identity has altered: Christ and Zoe were and remained Christ and Zoe throughout, though they once looked different. So the original mosaic must have shown Zoe and almost certainly her first husband, Romanos III (1028-34), whose name would fit the space. Zoe was rumoured to have murdered Romanos in order to make her supposed lover, Michael, emperor in his place, and it is not impossible that his head was once there. But why were Christ's and Zoe's heads altered? We don't know - though there are various plausible and implausible suggestions.

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