Monday, 29 June 2015

Istanbul - Day 1

Istanbul, 29 June 2015 - With the appropriate introductions out of the way, the group convened in the lecture hall of the Research Center of Anatolian Civilizations (RCAC) for the morning talks. Scott Redford set the tone by briefly describing the scope and aims of the research programme, namely to open up pathways of communication between archaeologists and art historians dealing with the eastern Mediterranean in the Middle Ages; to reconsider national narratives in the countries affected by the Crusades; and to explore the potential of material culture to buttress or help revise text-based approaches. The first lecture by Bob Ousterhout focused on the adoption of western designs in Comnenian imperial foundations, which predate the Latin conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade; and the scanty evidence for architectural activity in the City under Latin rule (1204-1261). He was followed by Eva Hoffman, who touched on issues of cultural mobility and portability in the Mediterranean, using oliphants - decorated ivory horns produced from the mid-eleventh to the thirteenth centuries - as a case study. She stressed the importance of textiles and ceramics widely circulating in the region for the emergence of an artistic lingua franca.

Bob Ousterhout toasting to a successful start.

After a short break for lunch, the group took to the road on a hunt for Crusader Constantinople. First stop was the Kalenderhane Camii (the former monastery of the Theotokos Kyriotissa), where one of the earliest cycles of the life of St Francis (c. 1250) was to be found. The frescoes themselves are currently exhibited in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, but the participants had the unique opportunity to visit the chapel where they were originally discovered, which is normally difficult of access.

Scott Redford illuminates the participants in the dark St Francis chapel interior.

The main church made also a strong impression due to its colourful marble revetment and intriguing sculptural ornament.

Above: Female participants ready to enter Kalenderhane Camii.

Right: Deep in contemplation of the main church's interior ornament.

The next stop on the itinerary was Hagia Sophia. Famous for its Justinianic origins, the Great Church preserved traces of alterations, both structural and functional, from the period of Latin rule, such as the imposing flying buttresses of the west façade and the belfry (now lost).

Above: The flying buttresses on the west façade of Hagia Sophia.

Right: The Deesis mosaic in the gallery.

Once inside, Bob Ousterhout debunked the myth of Enrico Dandolo's burial at gallery level. He further underlined the significance of the Deesis mosaic, commissioned shortly after the recapture of the City by the Byzantines in 1261, and its implications for artistic production in the imperial capital in the early Palaiologan period.

The programme for the day concluded with a visit to the temporary exhibition on the Seljuks at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Scott Redford drew our attention to rarely exhibited masterpieces showcasing the eclectic nature of Seljuk art.

Seljuk relief of an angel from the city walls of Konya at the exhibition.
Scott Redford shedding (blue) light on the exhibits.

At the end of a productive first day, the group felt entitled to a reinvigoarating dinner at a Beyoglu meyhane.


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