Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Mary in the apse
|Also known as
|The apse mosaic
|Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
|In the apse of the church.
We have an unusually precise date for this mosaic. On March 29th 867, the patriarch (chief bishop) of Constantinople, a man named Photios, delivered a sermon in Hagia Sophia that was (almost certainly - there's always some room for doubt) about this mosaic and celebrated its inauguration. The image is a starkly simple one: on an expanse of gold ground, Mary sits enthroned holding her Child, who extends a blessing with his right hand. Although it's often talked about as the image of the Virgin and Child, it is of course all about him - he's the centrepiece and she is the frame,. She wears blue in order to throw his gold and silver robes into sharp relief. The mosaic was a response to the period of religious dispute in Byzantium known as Iconoclasm (image-breaking), when the Empire was in angst about whether it was OK to use religious images in worship. The Iconophiles - image-lovers - won, and this mosaic is a sign of their triumph, a great flaunting Christian image in the most important church in the Empire. The message it gives is that God in the form of Christ became man for the salvation of humanity. As man, he was visible (God himself being invisible, though see Exxodus XXX) and so he could be depicted.