Hagia Sophia

Under the leadership of its founder Thomas Whittemore, the Byzantine Institute is best known for the uncovering and restoration of the mosaics of the most important church of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople's Hagia Sophia. Beginning in 1931 and continued well into the early 1960s, their work also led to the conversion of the building into a museum in 1934.

As evident through the films, Whittemore realized early on the significance of motion picture film, particularly color film, for the documentation and promotion of the Byzantine Institute's tremendous work in Hagia Sophia. The contents for these moving images illustrate the process of cleaning of the mosaics and the techniques of restoration and conservation, as well as close observations of the mosaics' visual impressions through different sources of light. Additionally, the films feature Whittemore himself, as well as other important figures in the Byzantine Institute, such as Ernest Hawkins and J.M. Brennan.

For more information about the films, please consult the fieldwork notebooks in the collection The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers. They include detailed records of the systematic filming of the panels in the south gallery (imperial portraits and deesis) and southwest vestibule in 1936 and of the mosaics in the north tympanum in 1940.

In total, ICFA holds twenty (21) 16mm films of Hagia Sophia, including duplicates. Eleven (11) of the unique films are available in full length through Vimeo.


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