Thessaloniki, Hagia Sophia, apse

Era 11AD
Location Agias Sofias, Thessaloniki 546 22, Greece

The mosaics in the apse of Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki, if not ninth century, may be eleventh century. In the apse, Constantine and Eirene’s eighth-century cross (the shadow outline is just visible) was replaced by an image of the Mother of God, seated and holding her child. The obtrusive chandelier doesn’t help here.

This mosaic has been generally despised by art historians. She tends to be described as ‘squat’ and ‘heavy’, her proportions as all wrong, and contrasted unfavourably with the dome mosaics, which have been seen as the work of a superior craftsman. But technically, the apse mosaic was the trickier of the two to make. There the mosaicist had only a limited area to work in, the space left by the removal of the cross, set in a deeply-curving apse semidome. I like her.

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