Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Justinian and Constantine mosaic in the south-west vestibule

Era 9AD - 10AD
Location Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

This is over the door through the south-west entrance to the church (the south-west vestibule). It's the door used by those entering the church who were not the emperor - us, really. In the centre of the mosaic sits Mary, in her blue robe, with her Child on her lap. He extends his right hand in a gesture of blessing. To either side of her head the roundels have the initials of her title in Greek, Mother of God. Mater Theou. To their right stands an emperor (he's crowned, haloed, wears sandals with a hint of red, and elaborate robes that look almost as if they are made from gold decorated carpet) holding a model of a great domed church - Hagia Sophia itself. As if this was not enough to identify him, his name is written down furthest left. To the left of Mary and Christ (our right) is another emperor, similarly dressed, holding a walled city (from close-up it's possible to see the buildings inside the city). He is Constantine the Great, founder of the city that bears his name, Constantinople. The two emperors were both known as 'the great' to the Byzantines. This mosaic is a visual demonstration of the place of the church and the city and so of the empire itself all under God's protection, and the protection of Mary, acknowledged through Christ's gesture of blessing and acceptance. It also underlines the place of the emperor as God's regent on earth, a theme similar to that of the panel above the west door. A Byzantine entering the church under this image might have felt reassured by this display of divine favour and standing.

Its date is tricky. it's usually dated to the tenth century on grounds of style (its appearance) but this is not 100% certain. We have no idea whose idea it was to put this mosaic here, but the chances are it was an emperor who had a vested interest in making these political/ideological points.

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