The Byzantine Institute Films
Thomas Whittemore tracing and explaining decorative mosaic patterns on the North Tympanum of Hagia Sophia, October 3, 1940.
The Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) presents a new online exhibit entitled A Truthful Record: The Byzantine Institute Films. ICFA stores and preserves motion picture films, created by the Byzantine Institute between the 1930s and 1940s: one of the Red Sea Monasteries in Egypt and, in Istanbul, eleven of the Hagia Sophia and one of the Kariye Camii. The online exhibit presents the films together with archival records from the collection of the Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers to reveal the context of the films’ creation.
The color films created by the Byzantine Institute’s photographer Pierre Iskender provide significant testimony of the mosaics at Hagia Sophia and Kariye Camii and the techniques employed to uncover and conserve them. When combined with notebook entries written by Byzantine Institute fieldworkers such as Ernest Hawkins and the brothers Richard and William Gregory, the history of the films’ creation truly comes alive. Thomas Whittemore, who founded the Byzantine Institute in 1930, made wide use of the moving images, screening them for donors and patrons (such as Robert Woods and Mildred Bliss), the Byzantine scholarly community, and an interested general audience in the United States and Europe.
The exhibit is divided into three sections that investigate how the films were made and how they were received by contemporary audiences: “Style and Content,” “Technique,” and “Purpose and Reception.” You can also explore the archival materials chronologically using a detailed timeline.