Mosaics and Frescoes

Mosaics and frescoes were widely used decoration techniques of the Byzantine religious painting. In Chora as well, we are able to see those two decoration techniques together. The outer and inner narthexes are decorated with magnificent sequential scenes that could be considered among masterworks of mosaics, narrating mainly the life and miracles of Jesus Christ, and the life of Virgin Mary, respectively. On the other hand, in the parecclesion, religious stories from the Old Testament and scenes such as the judgment day, resurrection and last judgment are depicted in frescoes.

The mosaic art found by Egyptians was at first used as a flooring decoration. In the Hellenistic period, this art was developed by the introduction of glass mosaics. That kind of mosaic was called “psifidoton” in the Byzantine period. In the Early Christian period, the mosaics were created by laying small triangular, quadratic, cubic etc. pieces called “tesserae” and made of stones, glasses and seashells of various colors and almost flesh-colored tile pieces covered with gold and silver leafs on a wet, quick-drying plaster together. This art, which was widely implemented in the 6th century for wall decoration, entered a period of stagnation in the 10th century, because of its complexity and since it was costlier than frescoes. However, in the 14th century, in the late Byzantine period, it revived, as seen in the Chora. That phenomenon is also an indicator of the extent of the socio-economic development of the Byzantine Empire after the Latin occupation (1261).

A very good example of the substitution of the art of fresco painting the mosaics in the Byzantine painting art since the later technique was expensive and difficult to implement, can be seen in the parecclesion of the Chora. In the period of Metochites, after the completion of the mosaic decorations in the naos and narthexes of the Chora, the decoration of the parecclesion was initiated, but here, mosaics were used nowhere with the exception of tomb niches, and all decorations were frescoes. Obviously, during the last phases of the renovation, the economic situation should have been worsened.

The fresco technique consists of painting in pigment dissolved in water by squeezing on wet plaster via a brush with stiff and long bristles. Thus, the pigments are absorbed by the wet plaster and the colors stay bright for a very long time. Thanks to both the painting technique implemented and the high-quality materials chosen for the parecclesion section of Chora, the brightness of the colors of the paintings have been preserved until today. The cliffs, trees, clothes stretched between buildings, and architectural elements aiming at providing depth to the paintings were implemented very successfully, and they have added three-dimensionality to the paintings.

After the conversion of the church into a mosque, all inscriptions, Christian symbols, all frescoes, and mosaic decorations were covered by a thin layer of dye and lime without destroying them. Thus, they have been able to survive without suffering any damage until today.