Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Who Was Jesus?

I don't know. And neither do you.

I do know something about this picture, though:

-- which appears near the headline of this article by Father James Martin, in which he purports to tell us about Jesus, interpreting passages from the Bible and, as usual, maintaining a 10-mile distance from anything he might know about the actual composition and transmission of the Bible. He's clearly not interested about any of that, any more than most of us would have any interest in his blathering on and on about his magical invisible friend.

So let's get back to that picture. It's a popular one. It's part of a mosaic in the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, which was a church from the 6th century until 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and renamed the city Istanbul. From then until the 20th century the building was a mosque. After WWI the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, and Turkey became a secular republic, and the Hagia Sophia became a museum showing many Muslim artworks, and also many Christian artworks, some of which had been covered up or destroyed or partly destroyed during the building's Muslim period. "Hagia Sophia" means "St Sophia," which means "Holy Wisdom." This mosaic was partly destroyed, as you can see in this picture, which also, with the people in the foreground, gives you an idea of its size:

This mosaic is one of a genre which was popular in Byzantine art, known as a Deesis. The figure on the left is the Virgin Mary, and the figure on the right is John the Baptist. Mary and John are both raising their hands in a gesture asking for Jesus' mercy in dealing with mankind.

It is generally thought that this mosaic was made in 1261, when Orthodox Greeks regained control of Constantinople from Venetians and other Catholics, who had conquered the city in 1204, and had been plundering its artworks so energetically for 57 years that today it is much easier to find major works of Byzantine art in Western Europe than in Istanbul. The territory which Catholics controlled from 1204 to 1261, consisting of Constantinople and a few thousand square miles surrounding the city, is known as the Latin Empire. This Deesis mosaic is one of the major artistic celebrations of the restoration of Byzantine control of Constantinople.

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