Central dome of the Nea Ekklesia

MS.BZ.019-BF.F.1993.F2814
Central dome of the Nea Ekklesia

Graphite on artist board
73.66 cm x 57.79 cm (29 in. x 22 3/4 in.)

One of the series of reconstruction drawings by Underwood refers to the dome of the Nea Ekklesia (New Church), the lost Constantinopolitan church founded by Basil I. The church was once located in the southern area of the Great Palace, and is now known only through literary sources, as is its major counterpart, the Holy Apostles.

Underwood’s drawing of the design was displayed at the 1946 Dumbarton Oaks Symposium dedicated to Hagia Sophia. The few handwritten notes that accompany the drawing disclose the working method of the team, which was based upon the meticulous scrutiny of textual evidence and “controlled”—in Underwood’s own words—“by the comparison of parallel monuments.”

The iconographic layout of the dome, crafted through the combination of motifs drawn from middle Byzantine manuscript illumination and monumental painting, is based upon a description found in Photios’s tenth homily. Today his text is almost unanimously accepted as referring, rather, to the palatine chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Pharos, built at the very end of the Iconoclastic controversy by Basil’s predecessor, Michael III (r. 842–867). In the absence of any archaeological remains whatsoever, the words of the patriarch supply the imagination of scholars with an impression of the central dome’s decoration: “On the very ceiling is painted, in colored mosaic cubes, a man-like figure bearing the traits of Christ. Thou mightest say He is overseeing the earth, and devising its orderly arrangement and government. . . . In the concave segments next to the summit of the hemisphere, a throng of angels is pictured, escorting our Common Lord.” This very image served as the basis for the dome mosaic in Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, D.C., when Underwood suggested that it should be used to create an iconographic program close to post-iconoclastic ninth-century examples from Constantinople.

 

More Exhibit Items

Central dome of the Nea Ekklesia
Central dome of the Nea Ekklesia

MS.BZ.019-BF.F.1993.F2814

Dome of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Dome of Saint Sophia Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Photograph: Fani Gargova

Letter from Paul A. Underwood to Father John T. Tavlarides, June 17, 1963
Letter from Paul A. Underwood to Father John T. Tavlarides, June 17, 1963

Saint Sophia Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Paul A. Underwood and Demetrios Dukas, Saint Sophia Cathedral, Washington D.C., 1966
Paul A. Underwood and Demetrios Dukas, Saint Sophia Cathedral, Washington D.C., 1966

Photograph from a photo album by Sarah Underwood