TIGERS IN EPHESUS: Tribute to a Departed Friend

THE MARSH KING’S DAUGHTER

Plein Air drawings all, done on-site and at the time.

The Great Virgin & St John ©2007 by Trici Venola

A few years back I went to Ephesus with my friend Cynthia from Maui. We are exactly the same age, both born in the Year of the Tiger. We both love cats. She even has cat eyes! Cynthia’s former husband had run off awhile before, leaving her in the unfinished mortgaged dream house in the middle of the jungle, all alone. After a year she still felt lousy and came to Turkey with a friend on the Sufi Dervish spiritual trail.

Konya Dervishes ©2005 by Trici Venola

Sufism’s genesis was in Konya, and it was in Konya that Cynthia found true spiritual healing in the form God chose to best get her attention: Hakan, a handsome young carpet salesman. Sound familiar? That old story leading to heartbreak? Surprise, they made it work.

Lewis Smoking Nargile ©2005 by Trici Venola

It took some doing. Hakan went to his friend Lewis at the Consulate in Ankara. “I’m in love and there’s a problem,” he said. “How could love be a problem?” asked Lewis. “No permission,” said Hakan, “Nobody believes us.” He explained the huge and visible age difference. “How old are you?” said Lewis. “Oh, about five,” said Hakan. “It was then,” Lewis told me later, “that I knew how much I liked him.” Lewis met Cynthia and told Hakan, “If you don’t marry her, I will.” He stood up for them at their wedding and got Hakan a visa. Hakan and Cynthia moved to Maui and started an import business. She and I went on holiday together on a break during their umpteenth buying trip. Cynthia needed girl time while Hakan stayed with the relatives in Konya, lovely people who adored Cynthia and lived with the TV always on and the halogen light always overhead.

Dervishes Near Konya © 2006 by Trici Venola

Cynthia traveled with a coffee maker and Hawaiian coffee that dissolved spoons.  She had the kind of high-cheekboned, big-lipped blond beauty so beloved by trophy collectors. Wide hips, a lot of good makeup, tons of jewelry, lots of fringe and swishing skirts and cleavage, trailing rose perfume, and these Turkish men just put up their paws and howled. She was ten pounds overweight then and only looked more alluring. We had a great time in Ephesus. “They make a big fuss of us here,” she said with satisfaction.

Cynthia Odalisque © 2005 by Trici Venola

The ruins of Ephesus are near Selchuk, so we went there. Selchuk is in the province of Izmir, Anatolia, and full of old Roman chunks, Byzantine and pre-Alexandrian wreckage, and the purported last home of the Virgin Mary, which Cynthia was crazy to see. We approached between mountains, turreted ruins on their peaks. Fairy-tale storks nest all along the tops of Selchuk’s ruined Roman aqueduct, each tower topped with its bristling nest and the tall jointed black-and-white stork families, little storklet beaks sticking up. Drawing them, I mused on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale, The Marsh King’s Daughter, imagining… Egyptian princesses flying with the storks, long black hair trailing behind them, the one princess dropping down, down into the marsh, the lotus flower bubbling up later with the savage beautiful daughter of the Princess and the Marsh King.

Storks in Selçuk © 2005 by Trici Venola

ST JOHN’S BASILICA Cynthia, jet-lagged, holed up in her room and I wandered Selchuk, drawing. The castle looks down on the town from its hilltop above the vast rambling ruin of St. John’s Basilica, built over his tomb by Justinian and Theodora and later wrecked by earthquake, scavengers and Tamerlane.

Weedy St John’s ©2007 by Trici Venola

Over the tomb is a flat marble platform, erected by the Turks, with four marble pillars framing the original dark, pitted old headstone scored

St John’s Headstone © 2005 by Trici Venola

with Coptic crosses. The ruin meanders all over the hill, stairs going up to nothing, massive chunks of masonry tilting up out of the ground, and some gypsies trying to sell fake old coins. One showed me a hipbone and kneecap sticking out of a wall of dirt, as well as some buried mosaics.  Sadly they have now replaced and corrected the old sign that described how Mary came to be in Ephesus. In embossed painted metal, it said:

…AND JESUS LOOKING DOWN FROM THE CROSS SAID TO JOHN TO TAKE HIS MOTHER INTO HIS HOSE.

St John’s Mood © 2005 by Trici Venola

From St John’s you can see the square double-domed mosque built from stones hauled from the ruined basilica, and beyond it on the marsh the remains of the Great Temple of Artemis, a wonder of the ancient world.

The Great Temple of Artemis was burned in 356 BCE, the night Alexander the Great was born, by a fame-seeking madman whose name escapes me. Alexander declared that Artemis allowed her temple’s destruction because she was preoccupied with his birth, and had it restored. But as the powerful religion of Artemis lost ground to the Romans and then the Christians, the temple fell into disuse. Finished by an earthquake, it was scavenged to build St John’s, Selchuk Mosque, and Hagia Sophia. Only one pillar remains pointing to the sky. Of course there is a stork’s nest on it.

Great Artemis 72A CONVERGENCE OF GODDESSES This great granite statue of Artemis now lives in the museum at Selchuk, eerie and powerful. In its niche around the corner from the massive marble images of Caesar Augustus and his Empress Livia, crosses hacked and burned into their foreheads, and other effluvia from Ephesus. This Artemis is not Apollo’s kid sister Diana. This Artemis  wears a paneled dress and a high crown covered with triple images of creatures: three sphinxes, three bulls, three bees.. Where her chest would be are masses of breasts or bull’s testicles or penises entering vaginas, depending on what you read. I lean toward this last: life creating itself. All of the ideas, though, represent powerful fertility. Some sources claim that the stone polyps really represent the sacrifice made by her priests, who castrated themselves to serve the Goddess, echoed later by Catholic priests dedicating their manhood to the Church. Whatever the Great Mother Artemis has on her chest, she is not human. Alien, squarejawed, a tilted blank gaze and the cryptic closed smile of a Kore, a concentrate of power, purity and fecundity distilled by time into Virgin; Goddess of all things, beginning and end. Standing there I thought about the other local Great Virgin, Mary. Hm…Virgin Mother, moon as attribute, unconditional love for all living things, goddess of women, desexed priests…my spine turned to ice as I realized whose face I was seeing. It was time to wake up Cynthia and go up the mountain.

In Mary’s House © 2007 by Trici Venola

Meryemana is the house generally agreed by Muslims, Jews and the Catholic Church to have been the home of the Virgin Mary, lost for centuries and rediscovered after a nineteenth-century vision by a stigmatized German nun. Archeologists dug where Sister Mary Emmerlich dreamed, and found a stone foundation on a steep slope in a grove of trees. The Virgin’s attributes abound: roses and orange blossoms. Even her new moon is evident in all the Turkish flags on the trinket stands. The place is packed, and whether or not you believe that Mary was here, millions of people who do believe it have been here, and the collective faith knocks you to your knees. Cynthia sobbed over her holywater flask, down by the wall covered with prayers.

Sweet Virgin Mary © 2005 by Trici Venola

Apostles John and Paul were thrown out of Ephesus because their conversions were putting a hole in the silversmith trade. Nobody was buying the little silver Artemis charms anymore. Perhaps it was then that the New Virgin became the local goddess. More stories: an ecumenical council in 430-something, in a 4th-century church built of her tomb. Now it’s a dark little restored church packed with pilgrims, an Order dressed in turquoise and blue, and many candles. Despite the mob there is deep and pervasive peace. The altar is where the old kitchen was. On the wall in Mary’s bedroom is a naive painting, an Assumption, with a treatment I had never seen. The adult Jesus holds an infant Mary. There’s no graffiti save the little painting above, of her face, far down on the wall, with a little wooden frame hung around it.

Bright Morning Face © 2006 by Trici Venola

ROME Next day we wandered down the main streets of Ephesus, the Biblical town that died when an earthquake robbed it of its harbor, and admired the library, the remaining statues, the massive stadium. In its

Gladiator Headstone © 2005 by Trici Venola

heyday Ephesus was a major city with indoor plumbing and heating, covered walkways, a population of 200,000 and a cemetery just for its gladiators, who were dug up in the 20th century by German investigators and subjected to forensic studies to see how they died. The result is a swell exhibit: a museum case with the tombstone and the actual punctured skullcase or fractured femur, along with an illustrated description of what made the wound and how the man died. I drew this one in the Selchuk Museum, just around the corner from the Great Artemis.

Crossed Caesars © 2005 by Trici Venola

Lili by Candlelight © 2007 by Trici Venola

THE MINISTRY OF FUN

Two years later, Cynthia and I went back to Selchuk with Lili,  also from Maui. The sumptuous villas of the Ephesus rich had just opened. They marched up the hill over the posh section of town just like they do in every city to this day. We’d all seen the HBO series Rome, and the hill villas, like the Roman statues, brought out the scheming passionate Atia in us.

The Marsh King’s Daughter flew with the storks to a Viking’s home in Denmark. By night she was the toadlike image of her hideous father, with her mother’s generous sweet spirit. By day she had her mother’s beauty and her father’s vicious temper, which her Viking protector adored. Only his wife knew the secret…

A glint at times in Cynthia’s cat-eyes, of fury barely checked. This was the sword-edge of an implacable life force. When administered with smoky voice and exquisite tact, it was capable, in one week, of getting a depressed mutual friend out of fusty hair and bedroom slippers and into spike heels, toreador pants, slicked-back hair and a holiday. Me, I just started growing my hair down to my hips.

Aphrodisias Composite ©2007 by Trici Venola

Lili in Aphrodisias 2007. Photo by Cynthia Ucarer

On that trip I became ordained in Lili’s Ministry of Fun, of which Cynthia was already a priestess. Here is our creed: DO IT ONLY IF IT IS FUN. IF YOU MUST DO IT, FIND A WAY TO MAKE IT FUN.

Sirinci 72

In the Greek mountain town of Sirinci we bought white khaftans and drove inland to Aphrodisias.  We held a priestess ceremony out in the ruins, each becoming free of something, with flowers and singing and incense. Only with these Aloha Blondes could I carry on so, to the sun’s dazzle on a whole tour group’s worth of snapping cameras. Afterwards I put my wreath on a stone lion. A guard approached. Uh-oh, I thought. “Madam,” he said with respect tinged with awe, “we are all wondering, where are you ladies from?”

Stork Pillar in Selchuk ©2005 Trici Venola

Stork Pillar in Selçuk ©2005 Trici Venola

Back on that first trip, Cynthia and I returned from Ephesus to discover that a big soccer game had taken over the town. We dressed in our earrings and trailing scarves and  went out to dinner. All the way out at the edge of town was the marsh with the one Artemis pillar and a lumpy old weedy hamam. Beyond the fence was a dark poor area, just little cement houses, all deserted with the game on. At the very end of town was a triangular lot at the end of two streets edging the marsh. There was a cafe, lit and open and no TV, with one woman who made us dinner. We sat there under the grapevines as darkness came slowly down on the town. Two men sat down nearby. One joined us, speaking with Cynthia at length in French about their respective youths in Paris. Something creaked in the quiet, and out of the dark trundled a popcorn vendor. “It’s a Fellini movie,” someone said. We stayed for hours, drinking coffee and red wine, the dark silence punctuated by an occasional car full of screaming soccer fans roaring out of the dark and away. A rose man materialized. The man who spoke French had a friend with a huge mustache, who jocularly gave us each a longstemmed, strong-scented red rose.

At last we took our roses and our leave and wandered home through the dark streets, up the hill past the rampart-like gate leading to the ruin of St. John’s church, and started down. At the base of the hill was the road, and across it the town entrance, a huge modern stone fountain with a big arch and a giant reproduction of the Great Artemis. We heard it first, a pounding scream coming from the crowd next to the fountain. As we came down the hill the noise became deafening. Close up it was a Bacchanal.

Leaning Old Minaret © 2005 by Trici Venola

In ancient times people would fling themselves into a sexual frenzy in the names of their deities: Dionysius, Demeter. When Christianity took over, the people continued to dance in worship. Nothing could break them of it. After six days of backbreaking labor the serfs would dance on the seventh, and they would always do it in the churchyard. Passion and worship, forever married. Now we looked down on a chaotic festival of screaming young men dancing to pounding music simulcast from the stores in the street. Flung water glittered in a strobe light. The dancing became wilder as people fell and leaped into the fountain. They took the winning soccer colors—yellow and blue– and wrapped them around the hips of the Great Goddess and shimmied them. One pubescent kid saw us watching him, strutted shirtless with his chicken chest stuck out and his wet pants plastered to him, stood at the huge stone back of the goddess facing us applauding across the water and danced like a stripling priest. Cynthia and I stood at the lip of the fountain, encouraging the young girls, but in the end, as so often, we were the only women dancing.

Cynthia Odalisque.Face Detail © 2005 by Trici Venola

In the fairy tale, The Marsh King’s Daughter found faith, which unified her lovely form and spirit. She ascended in joy to the Kingdom of Heaven, leaving only a withered lotus flower behind. Cynthia is slipping away now I am told, across the world in Hawaii, and I write this in the winter’s dark of Istanbul years later. The Aloha Blonde is taking her roses and her leave, those cat eyes and the husky voice murmuring French to some eternal young man. She is flying with the storks, her glory trailing behind her, and I’m posting this for all of us left at the party.

Tiger Sisters: Trici Venola & Cynthia Ucarer, 2005.

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All drawings Plein Air. All art ©Trici Venola. We love your comments.

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HAGIA SOPHIA AGAPE: Drawing the Basilica Entire

In response to requests, we are republishing this fine post from the archives. You just can’t get too much of Hagia Sophia. And if you’re in Istanbul now, go to the back corner of the basilica, on SogukCesme Street, and look in on the new antique carpet museum.

HAGIA SOPHIA

Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, 

Church of the Holy Wisdom of God

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail © 2011 by Trici Venola

STEEPLES AND MINARETS

Sultan Mehmet. Ottoman miniature, 15th century.

When Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople in 1453, he was twenty-one years old. He said: Give me your city and I’ll not let my soldiers loot. Gutted by the Fourth Crusade, shrunken to villages inside the walls, Constantinople had nevertheless held him off for a year, and still they fought him. They believed Rome would come to their rescue. A big mistake, and the city fell. The sky black with smoke, ships burning in the harbor, streets running with blood; screams and explosions; devastation and horror everywhere, and Constantine XI the Last Byzantine Emperor died on the walls, sword in hand. Afterwards, many witnesses claimed that a beam of light shot out of the top of Hagia Sophia, and the Archangel Michael soared out of the church and away, abandoning the city to the new Conqueror.

Enraged by unexpected losses, true to his word and the custom of the time, Mehmet let his soldiers run amok for three days. Afterwards, he says in his diary, he rode through the streets weeping at the devastation. Young Mehmet admired Alexander the Great, who burned Persepolis, but he refused to mind his own ministers, who advised him to burn Hagia Sophia. “It’s the most sublime building in the world,” he said, and converted it to a mosque. The Pope visited it in 2006. It was a huge event. The entire area was blocked off to all traffic, and the few trams running were jammed to the ceilings, steam on the windows. As I plodded up the hill from the ferry along with thousands of other displaced commuters, I thought of the Pope. Six hundred years too late, Your Eminence.

The Fall of Constantinople, from an old manuscript. Notice clerics at right in front of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail © 2011 by Trici Venola

All the surviving Byzantine basilicas in Istanbul are now mosques. It’s why, traditionally, mosques are round. And common sense tells me that the Crusaders, despite wreaking havoc all over the Middle East, had by 1453 noticed the lovely minarets, gone home and invented Gothic Architecture. I’ve not found any scholarly backup on this, but I’d say minarets are why we have steeples on churches.

VANTAGE POINT  June 2011, when Michael Constantinou asked me for the umpteenth time to draw him a picture of Hagia Sophia entire, I saw a two-week project. “Aç Ayi Ornamaz,” means in Turkish “The hungry bear doesn’t dance.” A commission was agreed upon. “The whole structure,” said Michael, “no tricky perspective, no slants, no seagulls!”

Aw shoot, no seagulls?

 

Ayasofya & A Gull ©2007 by Trici Venola

So I had to move closer.  I roamed around Hagia Sophia, checking out various views, and settled on the terrace at Seven Hills Restaurant, site of many fine dinners, drunk on the view. Here’s what they think Hagia Sophia looked like back in the day, when Emperor Justinian was still alive.

Justinian’s Constantinople. A print of this painting is in the outer transept at Hagia Sophia. If you know who painted it and where I can find a copy, please let me know in the comments section.

This vantage point is similar to the one I used. Here’s what it looks like today:

The scene is so spectacular, the 21st-century June light so white and intense, the sea right there, no way to even begin to get it all down, but trying is what makes art. The waiters were so nice to me that I drew them in gratitude. I sat at the same table every day for ten days, drawing for five hours, in that intense sun. They brought me coffee and water and made a big fuss, but never more than when I came back the last day and did this drawing.

Swell Fellows All: The Waiters at Seven Hills ©2011 by Trici Venola

These guys are from all over Turkey: Istanbul, Ardahan, Siirt, Diyarbakir and Nemrut Dag. All posed in the same spot for five minutes each, and everybody got a copy.

Me up top. Hagia Sophia is to the immediate left of this photo. Think what the mosaic artists saw, working up in the dome!

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS  I blew the first two tries. The second one, I had gotten all the way across the east face at the right before I noticed that the proportions were off.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

Started again right here, with the frontal projection to the right. I do not know the proper architectural term for these. Have you ever seen them anywhere else? I sure haven’t.  That plaster floral medallion on each one covers a Greek cross.

This is drawn with drafting pens on 35 X 70 cm rag paper with no preliminary pencil, so it had to start right. Then I measured everything off of this one, as explained back in the summer of 2011 with the Drawing the Boukoleon posts.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

June 9: Trying to get my mind around the implacable testament of this building’s age, and not as a ruin, either, but a continously-occupied temple of worship coming up on 1480 years. Thinking about the 10,000 workmen in two teams: 50 foremen with100 men to each, and they raced, and they met at the dome. Five years.

Ayasofya Beautiful ©1999 by Trici Venola.

June 12: Today got badly sunburned on left side but didn’t stop. I’m noticing on the east face, which is toward the Marmara, what 15 centuries of storms have done to the shape– the wear, rain tracks and moss and such are very interesting. The sea is deep turquoise.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

RIght in the middle of this section, see how the rain has sluiced diagonally across the brickwork, carving a trough? And you can see how it has hit that point of connection of the roof below, bounded over and fountained up, leaving a rounded mark on the wall above before flowing down into the shadow to the left. That shadow is very dark green: moss.

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola

Here’s an angular spot I like, although the original brickwork has been obscured by new plaster. Hagia Sophia has been standing, despite earthquake and catastrophe and supported only by columns, for almost 1500 years. Much credit for this goes to Mimar Sinan, the great architect of the Renaissance. In the natural course of things, the walls under the huge central dome move apart, causing collapse. In a masterful and politic stroke, Sinan buttressed them and anchored the buttresses with minarets, pleasing the gods of structure and his Sultan, Selim II, as well. You can see the buttresses right here: those massive piers to the right, one of them under a minaret base. How massive are they? Look at those tiny people on the ground!

Hagia Sophia Agape.detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Emperor Justinian gold coin. Big wide-set eyes, full face, wide mouth. Justinian!

To design Hagia Sophia, the Emperor Justininan hired a mathemetician and a physicist: Anthemius of Thrales, and Isidoros of Miletus. Religion, Mathematics, Science and Art: they say that at the peak of understanding, all of these converge. Justinian’s rule, and his life, reached a crescendo with his partnership with his Empress, Theodora.

Justinian and Theodora, from their respective mosaics in Ravenna.

Ah, Theodora. There’s a lot on her in a previous blog, Standing the Obelisk: the notorious nude Hippodrome performer who got religion, became Empress, quashed child prostitution, invented tiaras and pointed shoes, and quelled riots with equal aplomb. Justinian had the laws changed so he could marry her. By every report they were passionately devoted to each other, to their faith, and to their Empire. Here’s Theodora painted into life from an ancient bronze statue now in Milan, using information from the Ravenna mosaic and contemporary descriptions.

Theodora Comes Alive ©2012 by Trici Venola.

Look at that eyebrow: now she could quell a rebellion. Justinian and Theodora: where art, religion, science and mathematics converge, add great love and get High Byzantine. Eros: the love of another, and Agape: the love of God. Here is the final drawing of Hagia Sophia Agape: the convergence of all the great mysteries: an answer so great that the questions don’t matter anymore.

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Hagia Sophia Agape ©2011 by Trici Venola.

“Even had its Empire never existed, Byzantium would surely have impressed itself upon our minds and memories by the music of its name alone, conjuring up those same visions that it evokes today: visions of gold and malachite and porphyry, of stately and solemn ceremonial, or brocades heavy with rubies and emeralds, or sumptuous mosaics dimly glowing through halls cloudy with incense. — John Julius Norwich

Mosaic Detail Imperial Gallery

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Alll drawings Plein Air, ©1999-2011 by Trici Venola. All drawings created with drafting pens on paper. Hagia Sophia Agape and Waiters at Seven Hills measure 50 X 70 CM. Other drawings measure 18 X 52 CM. Theodora Comes Alive was created onscreen with digital tools. Thank you for reading. We love your comments.


SAINTS AND ANGELS 5: Divine Energy In Hagia Sophia

A MONK, AN ANGEL AND EMPRESS ZOE 

Today a South Korean monk showed me an angel on an iPhone. Such times we live in. Her name is Jaywon, and if she had said she was fourteen instead of forty, I’d not have been surprised save for her eyes, which have seen a great deal. She and her friend Joohee were touring Hagia Sophia and ran into me drawing from those giant blow-ups of the mosaics. We exchanged pictures and I told her about Empress Zoe, in front of the photo of the Angel Gabriel. Jaywon said that I was taking in blessings from working among all the angels and art and energy. A nice exchange to have in this very old temple in an ancient sacred place. This is a small, self-contained, joyous woman with a shaved head, wearing loose light clothes and carrying that iPhone. On it was a video of something coming out of the dawn. A circle of pure white light, and a spear of it separated and came toward the bottom of the frame. Divine energy, she said. She was incandescent in the dark cold basilica, and I asked to draw her.

Yesterday was a dream drawing day. Michael Constantinou will be here any minute to pick up his art, and still two pieces to go. I stood in line and forked over 20 lira as usual, and charged upstairs to the end of the Imperial Gallery. Huge crowds eddied around me all day, bags bumping into my head. It’s a popular spot, sporting mosaics of four Imperial Majesties, one  prince and two deities. Not only that, the  adjacent alcove is the prime spot to get a shot of the Madonna over the altar. Everyone’s bundled in bulky coats, they’re bigger than they usually are, they stomp by like they’re smaller. At times I just clutched my drawing safe to my chest. But what a day!

Empress Zoe WIP 1 ©2012 by Trici Venola

Zoe here really drew herself. A Byzantine princess, porphyrygenita: born to a reigning emperor and empress –in 978–  in the porphyry birth chamber, likely in the Boukoleon Palace. I refer to porphyry a lot, so here’s a chunk of it lying in the rain outside Hagia Sophia, built with pillars from ancient structures. It doesn’t show in the drawing yet, but Zoe’s face is set into a former mosaic, much earlier in style, texture and size of mosaic tiles.  What I’m doing in this Plein Air sitting is getting the light right: drawing the surface slightly rippled with age, squinting to see in the gloom. I’m getting the Grand Gesture, and the details will come later.

Here’s Zoe’s Emperor, her third.

Zoe’s Constantine WIP ©2012 by Trici Venola

The guides all laugh at how old and fat she was when she had this mosaic made, followed by a two-minute hash of her life. He was a lot younger than she was, etc. I got to wondering about this sacrificial lamb, so last night I went online and learned a few things. One was that Zoe was beautiful, and she stayed so, not  easy in the 11th Century. Who cares if she improved slightly in the official pix? Who doesn’t? The other is that this husband was a former lover.

Today started with a bang. I set up in front of the giant blowups in the North Gallery, to get the mosaic details right. Schmoozing with the guard, I opened up my bitsy folding stool. A sharp snap, and it collapsed. A broken wire. Disaster. I cannot sit on the floor. Asked for a chair, but no go. We cobbled the thing together. I cautiously lowered myself onto it. Completely immersed in work, a loud pop and I was slap on my back, pocket contents skittering on the icy marble. People rushed over and hauled me to my feet, and Mohammed the hero guard brought me…a chair. With arms and everything. Oh bliss. And this is what we got today.

Empress Zoe ©2012 by Trici Venola

Empress  Zoe was quite a girl. Young and lovely, she was shunted into a convent to get her out of the way by competative relatives. At fifty, she was yanked out, crowned Empress, and married to a man who wouldn’t sleep with her. She drove him crazy trying to get pregnant. He ignored her. She took a lover and flaunted him all over the Court. They found her husband boiled to death in his bath. Zoe married the lover the same day, which made him Emperor Michael IV. Clearly he was from a family of hustlers. He demanded that she turn all her power over to his brother, John the Eunuch, and then shut her out of his life before becoming terminally ill. John the Eunuch commanded her to adopt his nephew MIchael. When Michael IV died, Michael-the-nephew was crowned Emperor Michael V. He dumped Zoe into a convent on the Princes’ Islands. This enraged the populace, because Zoe was a princess, porphyrygenita, born to the purple by God, so Michael V brought her back. It was too late: he was deposed. The ministers decided that Zoe must rule, but jointly with her sister Theodora, whom she loathed. Zoe wanted to forgive Michael V, but Theodora had him blinded and sent to a monastery. The Byzantines were big on blinding, they considered it PC compared to beheading, which they did to quell rebellions.

This coin shows the two Empresses, looking goose-like from much handling. In order to increase her power, Zoe wanted to marry. She was now in her sixties and, thanks to alchemy, unguents and potions, still beautiful. In former lover Constantine Manomachos, she found a husband, the third to be scraped out of the Husband Mosaic and re-grouted in another hopeful image. If longevity was hoped for, he wins the prize, for his image has survived out of thousands, for a thousand years.

Constantine Manomachos agreed to the marriage on the condition that the sisters accept his longtime mistress, Maria Skleraina. This was not a problem. Zoe and Theodora liked Maria Skleraina enough to include her in the family throne, even making up a title, Despoina, which means Mistress but also means Empress. So the chariot of power, now pulled by four horses, galloped on, with frequent public showings of affection among the crowned quartet on the balconies of the palace, reassuring a scandalized and worried populace that all was well.

Zoe’s Constantine ©2012 by Trici Venola

Oh, worry.  Mortality is all around these days. Friends are dealing with horrifying diseases. People tightly woven into the fabric of my existence are gone, missing in the action of my life. Facebook photos of jazzy friends of yore show older versions I barely recognize. And sometimes they’re of me. It seems to come with the territory of having survived this long. In these days I find enormous comfort in the gleam of light on old marble, the carved artifacts of vanished lives. Divine energy, said Jaywon, and I think of that spear of light detaching itself from the dawn, coming toward me on the miracle of video. Standing next to a massive malachite pillar old long before Christ, feeling the power surging under me in this holy spot, looking up at the towering surface gnarled with age and scarred with witnessing, I feel so simple, so innocent in my small breadth of years, so young.

Jaywon with Gabriel ©2012 by Trici Venola

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All art © 2012 by Trici Venola. Thanks for reading. We love your comments.

SAINTS AND ANGELS 4: Ghost Frescoes and Seraphim in Hagia Sophia

ANGEL FACE

Angel Face One ©2011 by Trici Venola

At last, an angel with a face. The Angel. A Seraphim, actually, a six-winged celestial being created in mosaic in the 13th century, after the Byzantines reclaimed the city from the Latin invaders. The Byzantines’ church segued into Greek Orthodoxy. The Latin church became Catholicsm. The city, Costantinople, became Istanbul. Hagia Sophia became Ayasofya Mosque, and later, Hagia Sophia Museum. All these things the Angel has endured.

Its face was likely covered  by Mehmet the Conqueror when the basilica was converted to a mosque in 1453. Our angel face discovered by the Fossati Brothers during Sultan Abdulmedcid’s restoration in 1841, documented, and re-covered with a metal medallion. A face that survives that much deserves the best, so when I originally drew this picture back before Christmas and blew the face, I had to start again from scratch. On the left is the misfire, and on the right, the genesis of the drawing above.

First try and second start on Angel Face One ©2012 Trici Venola

This face is about a yard wide, incidentally, and I still had to refer to close-ups on the Internet, because look at what we can see from this vantage point:

Angel with Ghost Fresco ©2012 by Trici Venola

This angel is right up under the dome, in one of four curved triangular sections known as pendentives. Its fellow angels are all still faceless. The Internet shots are all full frontal, and this is oblique, so I had to play with it.

angel w minister

Here it is with the Minister of Tourism, at its unveiling in 2009.  This face isn’t human. It’s remote and emotionless. And it has zero relation to the face I drew, so I had to draw the whole thing again. Mea Culpa, I was cold and tired. That’s the price of working in ink, sometimes you can’t fix it.

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Here’s what the mosaic artists saw. Those lucky stiffs up in the scaffolding can see the actual mosaic tiles. The green ones, with distance, give it that ethereal color, a moon face sailing in starlight. Down below, the only clue to its being mosaic rather than paint is the intensity of color and a certain deliberateness to the image.

Since my rendering of it is so small, I had to reduce the complexity to as little as possible. Like Twitter. And you have to ask yourself, just which lines make the expression? Here’s a haiku version of the face at an oblique angle.

 

 

GHOST FRESCOS As mentioned, in 1841, Sultan Abdulmedcid redecorated Hagia Sophia, known by then as Ayasofya. At the time it was a mosque. It had been the premier church of Christiandom for nearly a thousand years, and much had been done to convert it to a mosque. Sultan Abdulmedcid outdid four centuries of predecessors. It was this Sultan who put up those huge wooden medallions, the ones covered with calligraphy. It spells out his name, his grandchildrens’ names, and the name of Allah. He hired two Swiss restorers, the Fossati Brothers, to do the job on the whole basilica. Originally there were four huge mosaic angels holding up the dome: Seraphim with a face surrounded by huge brown and blue wings. At some point since the Conquest of 1453, all four faces had been covered. The two angels to the west, probably much decomposed from water damage, were replaced with painted attempts to match the mosaic ones in the east. These two were carefully cleaned. At this point our angel face was discovered under its metal medallion, documented, and covered back up again. The other face, whatever it is, is still covered by a medallion, and there are medallions to match it on the western angels, the painted ones.

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Photo by Ramazan Tanhan of TV in the Imperial Gallery drawing the Angel.

I am no fan of the Fossati Brothers. Their Trompe-l’oeil marble does not fool me, not even in the dim winter light with the upstairs lamps unlit, and their Trompe-l’oeil windows have lousy perspective. A lot of their work involved plastering over the massive, convoluted surface of the upper ceiling vaults. This was painted a golden yellow with medallions and chains of floral patterns, probably in an attempt to match the gorgeous original sixth-century mosaic of the lower floor vaults, which are actual gold-dipped tiles embellished with mosaic medallions in geometric patterns. This paint and plaster job is now peeling horribly, and here and there it appears that the Turkish Government of the present has been peeking under the plaster to see what is there. Now look to the right of the Angel, to the pale area in the leprous yellow paint job. That’s scraped-off plaster over frescos… on the big arch, which is in front of the altar / mihrab. See the ghost image there? A big blob of yellow paint, and behind it a seated figure. There’s another one mirroring it on the close side of the arch. The whole half-dome here was frescoed with a host of saints.

Angel w Ghost closeup

Angel with Ghost Fresco.closeup

Here it is in the drawing, s trio of saints. It looks the figure to the left is wearing a crown.

Angel Face One.Ghost Detail

At one point, working on the Angel, I sat on the edge of a column pedestal. Dead ahead was another one, buried in the very building:

Took a break and found this swell gift item at the shop outside the basilica.

 

The perfect souvenir of Istanbul: three cats. And here’s a Lamb of God with a different sort of tail.
Cat of God385

EXQUISITE DETAIL It took awhile, but I finished the Shadow Arch. The challenge here was to document the stupefying wealth of detail without flattening the drawing with too much busywork.  See the previous blog about how: chiaroscuro. Did I succeed? I hope so! A tiny little 9 X 12 “drawing, and I’ll bet it took 10 hours. Emperor Justinian wanted people to be floored by the grandeur. He is said to have exclaimed, on his first sight of the glory he had brought about, “Solomon, I have surpassed thee.” I’ll say. Consider, the Shadow Arch is to Hagia Sophia what an eyelid fold is to a person. Just a little feather in the Angel’s wing.

Shadow Arch ©2012 by Trici Venola

PAGANS OLD AND NEO Over the holiday I took a really interesting guy around the Old City. An  aeronautical engineer and photographer turned CGI artist, he also knows a lot about pagan goddesses, and Hagia Sophia knocked him out. It was a lot of fun to see an actual Pagan priest get their first look at the old girl. Those monster malachite columns holding her up from the ancient gymnasium at Ephesus, the giant porphyry ones from Rome, all resonated with this visitor. You stand next to those, you spread out your arms as far as you can, palms flat, you lean your face against the cold marble, and you want to howl. Oil brings out the color of marble. All the columns are intensely colored toward the bottom from the oil of people’s hands.

Hand-Oiled Pillar ©2012 Trici Venola

So there we were, hugging adjacent pillars. From his, he described feeling the power surging up from under the column, and said it felt much older than the basilica. Indeed it is, older than Christianity itself. Before this Hagia Sophia were two others, and before them Roman and Greek temples, on into the ancient shamanistic worship of civilizations long forgotten. This has always been a holy spot, of course it has. The ancients knew this, that’s why they built their temples here. Perhaps that’s why they still stand.

After such an experience, there was nothing for it but nargile smoking at a fine old tea garden in an antique Ottoman hamam. That’s where we wound up on New Year’s Eve , with Baaddin, Nasan and Celal, guys who make the actual water pipes. Smoking nargile with strangers is I’m sure a fine old Pagan custom, or it is now.

New Year’s Nargile ©2012 by Trici Venola

In the New Year, I returned to the Angel. This time I put it in context, with alternating Byzantine and Ottoman details. I drew it all from the ground floor looking up through the chandelier, sitting between the Pagan columns we’d hugged that day, the ones from the Gymnasium at Ephesus, 2400 years old.

TVStefanJoksik Aya12

Photo by Stefan Joksik of TV in the South Gallery drawing the Angel.

Here’s what I drew. At the top are original 6th-century clerestory windows around the dome, embellished by Ottoman patterns on the ribs. There’s a Byzantine railing around the dome, and under it Ottoman painting. The Angel and its surrounding gold mosaic are 13th-century Byzantine, the paint and curlicues around it 19th-century Ottoman. The chandelier is Ottoman of unknown vintage, the electricity present-day Turkish. The wooden balustrade railing is very old Byzantine, complete with torch holders, and the marble below it original 6th-century Byzantine, all the way down to Sultan Abdulmedcid’s 19th-century wooden medallion. With all the hard lessons learned, it’s always better the second time around.

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Angel Face ©2012 Trici Venola.

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All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola. All art ©2012 by Trici Venola. Angel Face appears in Drawing On Istanbul 2. Original drawings are 20″ X 7″, drafting pens on rag sketchbook paper. We love your comments.