Istanbul, Kalenderhane Camii, detached panel of the Presentation of Christ

Era 6AD
Location Kalenderhane Mahallesi, 16 Mart Şehitleri Cd. No:11, 34134 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

The only figural mosaic that survives from sixth-century Constantinople is a detached panel (1m x 1.3m) currently on view in the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul. It was found at the Kalenderhane Camii, a Byzantine church since converted to a mosque, during archaeological work there.

It shows the Presentation of the Christ-Child by his mother to the Prophet Simeon in the Temple. Many of the coloured and gold and silver tesserae of the panel have decayed, in part through damp, so the panel now looks shabby, and because it is only ever viewed in close-up, it reveals just how crude and unfinished mosaic work can look. In good condition, mounted on a wall with a gold background, and presumably surrounded by other mosaics, it would have appeared considerably more impressive. The close-up photo is of Mary's head - note the single triangular tessera that marks the corner of her eye.

Little is known about the Kalenderhane as a church, not even which church it might have been. Even less is known about the function of the room in which it was displayed and whether or not it was part of a larger narrative series. Although the style of the panel led to art historians dating it to the seventh century for years, its discovery in association with a coin of Justin II (565-78) makes it late sixth century.


Although I have marked the Kalenderhane Camii on the map and it is well-worth a visit (go at prayer time to get in), the panel is now in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul

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