Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Empress Zoe: 11th Century Photoshop. For your edification. Plus you might like the photos.

This is a mosaic in the Hagia Sofia. It depicts the Empress Zoe, her husband Constantine IX, and Christ in the center.
The Hagia Sofia was something I'd wanted to see since art history class in 11th grade.
And it really is as amazing as you expect. It's got layers and layers of history (and art), having started out as a church, then becoming a mosque, and is now a museum.
If you click on the photos you can get better detail. Particularly of the tiles below, which I found amazing.

Zoe ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1028-1050. During this time it was the Eastern Roman Empire, with Constantinople (now Istanbul) as it's capital. And back then it was Christian.

I know very little about history, and my retention of dates and facts is abysmal. The things I remember are always either breathtakingly beautiful, or weird little facts that can't help but stick.

So Empress Zoe, she grabbed me for the following reason.

The husband in this mosaic is her third husband. And he's only in this mosaic because he outlived her.

This mosaic apparently was created while she was with her first husband, Romanos III. Who she may or may not have murdered. Turns out he limited her spending and paid her very little attention. Which could be of interest to any married men who might be reading.

But in any case, when he died - and she married husband number two, Michael IV, the very same day - she had him erased from the mural.

Tile by lovely stone tile, ole dead Romanos was chipped out. And Michael was inserted at the right hand of Jesus.

Until he, too, passed away. At which point you know the tile people were all, "Oh, fuck, there goes another one." And he was deleted, and Constantine's likeness was inserted. I didn't ask if they just changed the face and kept the body.

Which would be a lot easier for the tile people.


  1. Did you get to see the inside of the Blue Mosque while you were there? It was closed when I went.

    And the most amazing part of the Hagia Sophia was the catacombs/water stuff underground (can't remember what it's called) AMAZING.

  2. "Turns out he limited her spending and paid her very little attention. Which could be of interest to any married men who might be reading."

    I love this. See? There's something in history for everyone.

  3. who knew being a tile guy for the Empress would be such consistent work? i'd never heard of this before but i like the story, i'm not sure if she did it out of disgust for her former husbands but i am pretending she did it out of respect for her new man. good for her!
    (and thanks to TMBG i don't think anyone will ever forget that Istanbul was once Constantinople)

  4. Jo - We did go into the Blue Mosque. Beautiful.

    Liebchen - Yes, a little piece of history for everyone.

    notsojenny - I know - who knew? And you make a good point - probably out of respect for new man.

  5. I LOVE powerful, ancient women. And you know Constantine kept her happy, because he outlived her.

  6. Things have gotten so much easier to clean up now, haven't they? Now you can use photoshop or snip, snip with scissors and problem solved!

  7. Those poor tilers. I wonder if they off-ed her just so they wouldn't have to keep redoing it.

  8. I stumbled upon a blog one day and found it compelling. Non-fiction (and fiction), it would seem, is a very entertaining lady. You seem to have some of the same verve, adventurous tacks. I took a light read of your archives, and, well the pictures of the elephants are great (as well as 80's pics). Once, I thought I'd found heaven on earth when I first saw the US Embassy compound in Delhi... The baseball diamonds were perfect (WOW!), and soft-cones, who knew they existed in SW Asia? That's why, being a reformed ex-pat, we take a month of every year and pick spots on the map to "discover." My wife will say to me in faux-British fashion, "Higgins, is it time?" And I respond, "my dear, it is bloody well time." And off we go -- Europe, Asia, Africa...

  9. Those poor tilers! I bet in a corner of that building, something horrible about Empress Zoe is written...


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