Thomas Whittemore: Moving Pictures in Colour

This short summary published in the proceedings of the 6th Congrès International des Études Byzantines shows that Whittemore presented the work of the Byzantine Institute to the Byzantine scholarly community by means of the color films produced during the cleaning and restoration work at Hagia Sophia.

Thomas Whittemore, "Moving Pictures in Colour of Portraits in Mosaic of Saints in the Church of Haghia Sophia in Constantinople," in Proceedings of the 6th International Congress of Byzantine Studies (Paris, 1948), 423-424. [MS.BZ.004-01-04-322]

Page 323

A moving picture in colour presents newly uncovered portraits of saints on the North tympanum wall in the Church of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul. The film shows the conditions, methods and results of the work undertaken by the Byzantine Institute of America.

Through the description of several direct witnesses such as Fossati, Murav'ev and Salzenberg, it was known that about a century ago niches under the windows of the North & South tympana walls contained life-size portraits of some Fathers of the Church and Saint Patriarchs of Constantinople.

Their names were listed as:

Ignatios Theophoros, Dionysios Areopagites, Gregorios of Nea Caesarea, Athanasios of Alexandria, Cyril of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianze, John Chrysostom, Nicholas of Myra, Gregory the Armenian, Anthemios, Methodios and Ignatios the New Saint.

Some of these portraits were hurriedly sketched by Fossati during the work of restoration of Haghia Sophia, ordered by Sultan Abdul-Mecit II (1847-1849), others were swiftly copied by Salzenberg, from Fossati's sketches, and published in 1955 in his Album of Haghia Sophia.

At the close of Fossati's work of conservation a thick layer of plaster was used to conceal these figures, which remained thus concealed until 1939. The Byzantine Institute, entrusted by the Turkish Government to uncover, consolidate, and study the mosaics of Haghia Sophia, undertook the systematic tests of the seven niches on the North and South tympana in order to ascertain what portraits had survived.

Preliminary investigations brought the sad evidence that nothing remains, except some small fragments scattered here and there, of the mosaics of the South side of the Church. Tests on the North wall gave better results: three of the niches were found to contain more or less undamaged mosaic portraits - the four remaining panels shared the fate of those on the South wall.

Page 424

The three portraits that are preserved represent St. Ignatios Theophoros, St. John Chrysostom and St. Ignatios the New Saint.

Considering the order of the portraits reproduced by Salzenberg in his Album and by Fossati in his unpublished sketches, we may presume that the four lost mosaics on the North Wall represented Gregory of Nea Caesarea, Cyril and Athanasios of Alexandria, and Methodios, the Predecessor of Ignatios the New on the throne of Constantinople.

The difficult problem of raising the scaffolding on the narrow passage running over the second Gallery at a height of more than 23 m. was successfully solved by the Istanbul Engineering Company. The scaffolding, as will be shown in the pictures, was suspended by steel bars passed through the windows of this tympanum.

The work of uncovering was naturally interrupted by the war and resumed only in the summer of 1946. The Institute is happy to present today to the honourable members of the VIth International Byzantine Congress this film showing in colour the result of their efforts to unveil and preserve these incomparable specimens of Byzantine portraiture.

The Saints are represented full-face and life-size on a gold and silver ground. Each niche is framed by a rich multicoloured mosaic ornamental border. A similar ornament forms the base of the niche. The inscriptions carry the name and citations of the Saints in black-violet letters as an organic part of the portraiture.

All are uniformly vested in grey-white phelonia and chitons, with claves. Bishop's omophoria bear large crosses in red and gold. They all hold in their left hand a jewelled Book of the Gospels, while the right is raised in the gesture of Blessing.

The features are individual and the technique of execution is different in each face. The idealized face of the mighty Ignatios, the God-bearer, the ascetic, intellectual features of St. John, the ever young face of Nicetas, the emasculated son of the Emperor Michael I Rhangabe, here standing as the Patriarch Ignatios the New, differ in their presentation from the dry schematic iconographical formulae we see in the almost contemporary portraits of the saint bishops in the Church of Haghia Sophia in Kiev. A detailed study of these incomparable specimens of the Byzantine Art of portraiture is the subject of a forthcoming Report on the Mosaics of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul.

The film which we show is an attempt to reproduce the portraits in their architectural setting of light.

         

        More Exhibit Items

        Letter from Charles J. Connick to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1937
        Letter from Charles J. Connick to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1937

        Connick, a leading American stained glass artist of the first half of the 20th century, expresses his amazement upon seeing a film of the mosaics of Hagia Sophia.

        William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for June 1, 1937
        William John Gregory: Notebook Entry for June 1, 1937

        Gregory expresses his opinion upon seeing the films shot in 1936 for the first time the following year.

        Letter from Ture Algot Johnsson Arne to Thomas Whittemore, November 24, 1937
        Letter from Ture Algot Johnsson Arne to Thomas Whittemore, November 24, 1937

        Arne extends an invitation for Whittemore to give two lectures illustrated with films in Sweden.

        Letter from Johnny Roosval to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1938
        Letter from Johnny Roosval to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1938

        Roosval expresses how delighted he is that Whittemore will be visiting Stockholm and Upsala to give lectures illustrated with the film.

        Letter from Mildred Bliss to Thomas Whittemore, April 17, 1941
        Letter from Mildred Bliss to Thomas Whittemore, April 17, 1941

        Bliss expresses her apprehension regarding Whittemore's return to Istanbul, suggesting that he should instead travel around the United States to show "the film" since many people were interested in seeing it.

        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to Mildred Bliss, July 3, 1941
        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to Mildred Bliss, July 3, 1941

        Whittemore expresses his interest in publishing the uncovered mosaics in Hagia Sophia as soon as possible to prevent German intervention. He discusses publicizing the work of the Byzantine Institute on the West Coast by giving a lecture illustrated with the color films.

        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to John Thacher, April 7, 1943
        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to John Thacher, April 7, 1943

        Whittemore informs Thacher, Director of Dumbarton Oaks, that he has agreed to show a color film of the work carried out at Hagia Sophia, in response to a request from the Administrative Committee of Dumbarton Oaks.

        Telegram from Thomas Whittemore to Robert Bliss, April 8, 1943
        Telegram from Thomas Whittemore to Robert Bliss, April 8, 1943

        Whittemore agrees to show color films of the work done at Hagia Sophia at Dumbarton Oaks.

        Telegram from Thomas Whittemore to Alan Valentine, February 14, 1947
        Telegram from Thomas Whittemore to Alan Valentine, February 14, 1947

        Whittemore proposes a lecture at the University of Rochester, which will be illustrated with color films of the conservation work carried out in Hagia Sophia.

        Letter from Walter Clark to Thomas Whittemore, March 18, 1947
        Letter from Walter Clark to Thomas Whittemore, March 18, 1947

        Clark from the Eastman Kodak Company invites Whittemore to give a public lecture illustrated with the color film at the Art Gallery in Rochester, NY.

        Telegram from John Thacher to Thomas Whittemore, December 22, 1947
        Telegram from John Thacher to Thomas Whittemore, December 22, 1947

        Thacher, Director of Dumbarton Oaks, asks Whittemore to give a public lecture with films at Dumbarton Oaks.

        Thomas Whittemore: Moving Pictures in Colour
        Thomas Whittemore: Moving Pictures in Colour

        This short summary published in the proceedings of the 6th Congrès International des Études Byzantines shows that Whittemore presented the work of the Byzantine Institute to the Byzantine scholarly community by means of the color films produced during the cleaning and restoration work at Hagia Sophia.

        Letter from the American Philosophical Society to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1950
        Letter from the American Philosophical Society to Thomas Whittemore, March 16, 1950

        The Executive Officer of the Society informs Whittemore that a screening of the films at the Annual Meeting in 1950 would not be possible, but proposes to put him on the program for the following year.

        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to L. P. Eisenhart, March 20, 1950
        Letter from Thomas Whittemore to L. P. Eisenhart, March 20, 1950

        Whittemore agrees to show the color film at the American Philosophical Society Annual Meeting in 1951. This screening never took place as Whittemore passed away on June 8, 1950.

        Letter from John Coolidge to William MacDonald, January 15, 1951
        Letter from John Coolidge to William MacDonald, January 15, 1951

        Coolidge from the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University accepts MacDonald's offer for a screening of the Byzantine Institute films.

        Letter from Marian Hayes to Seth Gano, February 7, 1951
        Letter from Marian Hayes to Seth Gano, February 7, 1951

        Marian Hayes, art history professor at Mount Holyoke College and a former student of Whittemore's at New York University, inquires about renting the color film on Hagia Sophia to show it to her students.

        Invitation from the Byzantine Institute, February 8, 1951
        Invitation from the Byzantine Institute, February 8, 1951

        The Byzantine Institute issues an invitation to a screening of the films in honor of Thomas Whittemore at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University.

        Letter from William MacDonald to Marian Hayes, February 9, 1951
        Letter from William MacDonald to Marian Hayes, February 9, 1951

        MacDonald replies to Hayes' inquiry about renting the films by explaining that they are unique and thus cannot be lent out. Instead, MacDonald proposes that he personally transport the films to Mount Holyoke College for a screening.

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