JUST UNDER YOUR FEET: Drawing in the Corridors of Lord

Tunnels under Hagia Sophia? Here’s my experience with one of them.

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

Just Under Your Feet ©2001 Trici Venola

The bridal processional walks singing along Akbiyik Street, trailing clouds of incense. Between rows of arches and marble columns, through hotels and hostels, bars and cafes and shops, the grand company spirals up through the bad bald renovation of the Stairway of Lord, chanting with every step, and continues on toward the Four Seasons Hotel. Heavy silks and pearled brocades sweep through groups of backpackers drinking beer and smoking nargile, tourists haggling over carpets and ceramics, hotel check-ins and waiters juggling trays, as the Empress and her attendants and priests walk from her marriage, in the Church of Lord, to its consummation in the Imperial Bedchamber of the Magnaura Palace.  Sometimes I spend so much time drawing these antique ruins that the past becomes superimposed on the present.

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

Rock Crystal Cross ©2002 Trici Venola

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP

Cartoon Asia MinorI found this place back in 1999.  I’d heard about the Byzantine palace they’d found but couldn’t get in anywhere to draw it. I was out on Kutlugun Street in Sultanahmet across from Four Seasons Hotel, crazy, thinking about them building on the ruin before I could draw it. A guy stepped out of a carpet shop. “Do not cry, Madam,” he said, “we have the Magnaura Palace in our basement.”

What they have is a section of the Corridor of Lord, part of the Magnaura Palace Complex. Every structure on the street is built over a chunk of the Corridor. But the Basdogan family at Asia Minor Carpets spent half a million dollars digging out theirs.  I started drawing it that day, and I’ve been drawing it ever since. It’s a spectacular ruin. You can see it under Asia Minor Carpet Shop and from the back of Albura Kathisma Restaurant. Don’t walk where the floor is wet! I love it so much I wrote a story about it. Here’s an excerpt. For our post, I’ve included my Plein Air drawings of the place and some photos.

Tunnel Door

(Fall 1999) …As lights came on I began to see dim walls of pitted stone blocks. At the bottom of the wall to my left was a low arch. One of the electrical cords traveled along the wall and into this black hole. It lit up suddenly. The wall was so thick it was almost a tunnel. I stuck the sketchbook under my arm, bent double, and went in.

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola

Double Door in Lord ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Passageway, looking across the Bath at the first room.

It was a little irregular room with a tall vaulted ceiling. Amid the stones of one wall was a broken terracotta pipe. A bath?Rock CU Across was the entrance to another archway. I crowded through it into a narrow passage, rough stone walls going up into shadows, iron prongs sticking out from the stones above my head, hammered into them in some forgotten necessity a thousand years ago.  

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola

Lord Passage ©1999 Trici Venola.

 I walked down the passage on warped wooden planks. The orange electrical cord looped along ahead of me, buzzing, strung here and there with glowing yellow bulbs. At the end of the passage it disappeared through a tall opening in the stone wall. I followed the cord through this opening. I smelled damp earth and age. The yellow lights made aureoles in the dusk.

Indiana Jones Arch

I was in a big dim space, looking down the wooden catwalk at a brick archway about fifteen feet high, plugged almost to the top with rubble. Between the rubble and the arch was a black hole going back forever. The walls on either side were stone. At the bottom were cement sacks and a shovel. Above was a dome made of small red bricks in a spiral pattern. To the left and right of the arch were more pitted brick archways, at right angles to the one in the center. Each led to another spiral brick dome over another archway, each full of rocks and dirt that went off into the shadows. In the center arch, next to the black hole, was a bright square yellow lamp. The electrical cord swooped along to this and stopped. End of the line. I was in Byzantium.

— From ‘Just Under Your Feet’, Encounters with the Middle East, Solas House, Palo Alto. © 2007 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola.

Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber, the drawing from that first day.

In this early attempt at drawing old stone. I just outlined every brick. After so many centuries, each one has a separate personality. The cat clearly said, “What are you doing here?”

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola

Open to the Sky ©1999 Trici Venola. Dome Chamber entrance before the stairs were put in.

The Basdogan Family finished their excavation, three full rooms and the Passage, plus a small cistern behind that broken pipe.They installed two staircases and a plywood floor and topped parts of the ruin with glass, and put in a cafe with a large sign over it: Palatium.  In 2005, obsessed, I drew a schematic of their excavation. Here it is.

Lord Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

Corridor of Lord Chunk Schematic ©2005 Trici Venola

In the story above, I went into the first room at the bottom of the drawing, up through the Bath and Passage, and into the Dome Chamber at the top, which is Kutlugun Street. The bottom is Akbiyik. Both run parallel along the Marmara slope of Sultanahmet. The shape of the streets is determined by the shape of the Corridor. See?

Here on Google, that big dome conglomerate at the top is Hagia Sophia. That Four Seasons, now gorgeous, was the actual Midnight Express prison, built on the ruins of the Magnaura Palace. You can still see graffiti from prisoners there. The Magnaura was the Imperial Palace from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The galleries were still around in 1200, as this CGI take from Byzantium 1200 shows:

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

Behind hotels along Akbiyik street you can still glimpse tall pointed arches and old stone. Here’s what Byzantium 1200 thinks the inside upper gallery looked like.

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.
According to various sources, including one that quotes an 8th-century Book of Ceremonies, the Empress’s procession walked to her marriage, her ceremonial bath, her bedchamber and back again. I wonder if the actual consummation was witnessed as well.
The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola

The Passageway Door ©2005 Trici Venola. From the Dome Chamber, looking into the Passage.

Drawing down under the street I wonder about a lot of things. There’s the dripping of water, great silence and a sense of waiting. Ghost stories seem sensible here. I heard of something in tall boots that told the carpet shop tea lady to move along, and one night watchman tells lurid tales of spooks running up and down the stairs. I myself saw only a black cat-sized shadow detach itself from a black doorway down there, skitter across the floor and evaporate before my very eyes.

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 Trici Venola. By 2008, I had learned to draw old stone. You do it slowly.

The best story was from an old lady in the neighborhood. In Kathisma Restaurant, next to the entrance to this excavation, there’s a tunnel tricked out to look like a wishing well. The old lady said that when she was a kid, they used to go in there and come out on the Marmara Sea. An adult tried this in the 1960s, but he got stuck and died, so be warned.

THE DISAPPEARING BISHOP

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

Gennadios II meets Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453

I remember that Bishop of Constantinople in 1453, coming in full pomp with all his attendants to meet Mehmet the Conqueror. He handed over the keys to the city, and, according to witnesses, walked into the wall of Hagia Sophia and disappeared forever.

Dragon Lamp G2002 Trici Venola

Dragon Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

There are these small doors in Hagia Sophia, and many, many tunnels. That must have been quite a processional, all those priests quick-stepping down through secret passages to the sea. They would have worn their best to meet the Conqueror, and carried all their jewels and all their prayers to avoid meeting their Maker.

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Foot Lamp ©2002 Trici Venola

Red and blue and gold, furs and plumes, torches, little lamps. The Pilgrim Foot was a common Christian theme.  Fantastical creatures pre-date and permeate Christianity throughout the Middle East, a tradition now echoed only by those gargoyles on Notre Dame.  Perhaps the hurrying processional carried small ivories like this Madonna or the angel at the top of the page.

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Ivory Virgin ©2002 Trici Venola

Or reliquaries with bas-reliefs similar to these silver ones of Apostles Peter and Paul. After all they were running for their lives.

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola

Peter and Paul ©2002 Trici Venola. Silver bas-reliefs 7″ high 500-600 CE. NY Met

I drew these little images in museums, most of them in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a magnificent evolved place that allows me to wander with my sketchbook and my mind, in the wake of the grand processional of history. It continues to wend its way along these streets, sun lancing in the arched windows, reflected flames gleaming in the surfaces of old marble bowed with the collective weight of panoply and prayers.

Two ArchesJust under your feet, steps recede into the earth, domes push up weeds, arches bear up under traffic. Forty fathoms below that the goddesses are pagan, the angels’ wings come out of their hips, the lions have nearly human faces. Down and down and down go the passages, the great processionals in a honeycomb of antiquity. Workmen with iPhones jackhammer away, following the pipedream of progress, but they have never found the bottom of Sultanahmet.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

Ivory Angel ©2002 Trici Venola.

— All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, from the Drawing On Istanbul Series. All full drawings done in sketchbook format: 18 cm X 52 cm, drafting pens on rag paper. We appreciate your comments!

This post originally appeared early in 2012 under the title: THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP: Drawing In the Corridors of Lord. I’m closing in on finishing a new book, so instead of the usual week I took a night and upgraded this for you. It’s one of my favorites.

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP: Drawing In the Corridors of Lord

Ivory Angel NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.Bas-relief4 X 4″ 500-700 CE

The bridal processional walks singing along Akbiyik Street, trailing clouds of incense. Between rows of arches and marble columns, through hotels and hostels, bars and cafes and shops, the grand company spirals up through the bad bald renovation of the Stairway of Lord, chanting with every step, and continues on toward the Four Seasons Hotel. Heavy silks and pearled brocades sweep through groups of backpackers drinking beer and smoking nargile, tourists haggling over carpets and ceramics, hotel check-ins and waiters juggling trays, as the Empress and her attendants and priests walk from her marriage, in the Church of Lord, to its consummation in the Imperial Bedchamber of the Magnaura Palace.  Sometimes I spend so much time drawing these antique ruins that the past becomes superimposed on the present.

Just Under Your Feet ©2003 by Trici Venola. The main entrance below the carpet shop, looking down into the Dome Chamber. That’s the Four Seasons at the top.

Cartoon Asia Minor ©2008 by Trici Venola

THE PALACE UNDER THE CARPET SHOP

I found this place back in 1999.  I’d heard about the Byzantine palace they’d found but couldn’t get in anywhere to draw it. I was out on Kutlugun Street in Sultanahmet across from Four Seasons Hotel, crazy, thinking about them building on the ruin before I could draw it. A guy stepped out of a carpet shop. “Do not cry, Madam,” he said, “we have the Magnaura Palace in our basement.”

In the Dome Chamber. ©2005 by Trici Venola

What they have is a section of the Corridor of Lord, part of the Magnaura Palace Complex. Every structure on the street is built over a chunk of the Corridor. But the Basdogan family at Asia Minor Carpets spent half a million dollars digging out theirs.  I started drawing it that day, and I’ve been drawing it ever since. It’s a spectacular ruin. You can see it under Asia Minor Carpet Shop and from the back of Albura Kathisma Restaurant. Don’t walk where the floor is wet! I love it so much I wrote a story about it. Here’s an excerpt. For our post, I’ve included my Plein Air drawings of the place.

JUST UNDER YOUR FEET

(Fall 1999) …As lights came on I began to see dim walls of pitted stone blocks. At the bottom of the wall to my left was a low arch. One of the electrical cords traveled along the wall and into this black hole. It lit up suddenly. The wall was so thick it was almost a tunnel. I stuck the sketchbook under my arm, bent double, and went in.

Double Door in Lord ©2005 by Trici Venola. From the Passageway, looking across the Bath at the first room.

It was a little irregular room with a tall vaulted ceiling. Amid the stones of one wall was a broken terracotta pipe. A bath? Across was the entrance to another archway. I crowded through it into a narrow passage, rough stone walls going up into shadows, iron prongs sticking out from the stones above my head, hammered into them in some forgotten necessity a thousand years ago.  

Lord Passageway ©1999 by Trici Venola. Looking back to the cement wall.

 I walked down the passage on warped wooden planks. The orange electrical cord looped along ahead of me, buzzing, strung here and there with glowing yellow bulbs. At the end of the passage it disappeared through a tall opening in the stone wall. I followed the cord through this opening. I smelled damp earth and age. The yellow lights made aureoles in the dusk.

I was in a big dim space, looking down the wooden catwalk at a brick archway about fifteen feet high, plugged almost to the top with rubble. Between the rubble and the arch was a black hole going back forever. The walls on either side were stone. At the bottom were cement sacks and a shovel. Above was a dome made of small red bricks in a spiral pattern. To the left and right of the arch were more pitted brick archways, at right angles to the one in the center. Each led to another spiral brick dome over another archway, each full of rocks and dirt that went off into the shadows. In the center arch, next to the black hole, was a bright square yellow lamp. The electrical cord swooped along to this and stopped. End of the line. I was in Byzantium.

— From ‘Just Under Your Feet’, Encounters with the Middle East, Solas House, Palo Alto. © 2007 Trici Venola.

The Indiana Jones Arch ©1999 by Trici Venola. Dome Chamber,  the drawing I did that first day.

In this early attempt at drawing old stone. I just outlined every brick. After so many centuries, each one has a separate personality. The cat clearly said, “What are you doing here?”

Open To the Sky ©1999 by Trici Venola. Dome Chamber entrance before the stairs were put in.

The Basdogan Family finished their excavation, three full rooms and the Passage, plus a small cistern behind that broken pipe. They installed two staircases and a plywood floor and topped parts of the ruin with glass, and put in a cafe with a large sign over it: Palatium.  In 2005, obsessed, I drew a schematic of their excavation. Here it is.

Magnaura Chunk Schematic ©2005 by Trici Venola.

In the story above, I went into the first room at the bottom of the drawing, up through the Bath and Passage, and into the Dome Chamber at the top, which is Kutlugun Street. The bottom is Akbiyik. Both run parallel along the Marmara slope of Sultanahmet. The shape of the streets is determined by the shape of the Corridor. See?

Google Maps Istanbul ©2012. My additions.

Here on Google, that big dome conglomerate at the top is Hagia Sophia. That Four Seasons, now gorgeous, was the actual Midnight Express prison, built on the ruins of the Magnaura Palace. You can still see graffiti from prisoners there. The Magnaura was the Imperial Palace from the 4th to the 8th centuries. The galleries were still around in 1200, as this CGI take from Byzantium 1200 shows:

Corridor of Lord CGI © 2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

In places along Akbiyik street you can still glimpse tall pointed arches and old stone. Here’s what Byzantium 1200 thinks the inside upper gallery looked like.

Corridor of Lord CGI ©2007, Walking Through Byzantium. ©byzantium1200.com. Used by permission.

According to various sources, including one that quotes an 8th-century Book of Ceremonies, the Empress’s procession walked to her marriage, her ceremonial bath, her bedchamber and back again. I wonder if the actual consummation was witnessed as well.

The Passageway Door ©2006 by Trici Venola. From the Dome Chamber, looking into the Passage.

Drawing down under the street I wonder about a lot of things. There’s the dripping of water, great silence and a sense of waiting. Ghost stories seem sensible here. I heard of something in tall boots that told the carpet shop tea lady to move along, and one night watchman tells lurid tales of spooks running up and down the stairs. I myself saw only a black cat-sized shadow detach itself from a black doorway down there, skitter across the floor and evaporate before my very eyes.

In the Corridors of Lord ©2008 by Trici Venola. A double window next to the Indiana Jones Arch. By now I had learned to draw old stone. You do it slowly.

The best story was from an old lady in the neighborhood. In Kathisma Restaurant, next to the entrance to this excavation, there’s a tunnel tricked out to look like a wishing well. The old lady said that when she was a kid, they used to go in there and come out on the Marmara Sea. An adult tried this in the 1960s, but he got stuck and died, so be warned.

Bronze Foot Lamp NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.400-500 CE

Copper Alloy Dragon Lamp NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola. c300 CE

Tiny Ivory Madonna NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola c550 CE Constantinople.

Rock Crystal & Silver Cross NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola c500-700 CE

I remember that Bishop of Constantinople in 1453, coming in full pomp with all his attendants to meet Mehmet the Conqueror. He handed over the keys to the city, and, according to witnesses, walked into the wall of Hagia Sophia and disappeared forever. There are these small doors in Hagia Sophia, and many, many tunnels. That must have been quite a processional, all those priests quick-stepping down through secret passages to the sea. They would have worn their best to meet the Conqueror, and carried all their jewels and all their prayers to avoid meeting their Maker. Red and blue and gold, furs and plumes, torches, little lamps. The Pilgrim Foot was a common Christian theme.  Fantastical creatures pre-date and permeate Christianity throughout the Middle East, a tradition now echoed only by those gargoyles on Notre Dame.  Perhaps the hurrying processional carried small ivories like this Madonna or the angel above. Or reliquaries with bas-reliefs similar to these silver ones of Apostles Peter and Paul. After all they were running for their lives.

Peter & Paul NY Met ©2002 Trici Venola.Silver bas-reliefs c 7″ high 500-600 CE

I drew these little images in museums, most of them in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, a magnificent evolved place that allows me to wander with my sketchbook and my mind, in the wake of the grand processional of history. It continues to wend its way along these streets, sun lancing in the arched windows, reflected flames gleaming in the surfaces of old marble bowed with the collective weight of panoply and prayers. Just under your feet, steps recede into the earth, domes push up weeds, arches bear up under traffic. Forty fathoms below that the goddesses are pagan, the angels’ wings come out of their hips, the lions have nearly human faces. Down and down and down go the passages, the great processionals in a honeycomb of antiquity. Workmen with iPhones jackhammer away, following the pipedream of progress, but they have never found the bottom of Sultanahmet.

All of Them Angels ©2005 by Trici Venola. Stone angels from the Archeological Museum, Istanbul 400-1400 CE, Ataturk, Van Cat and the Marmara Sea.

— All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola, from the Drawing On Istanbul Series. All full drawings done in sketchbook format: 18 cm X 52 cm, drafting pens on rag paper. We appreciate your comments!

BIG MOTHER HAN 2: Drawing in Buyuk Valide Han

WORKING STIFFS

Sinan in His Workshop ©2012 Trici Venola

My father was a self-proclaimed working stiff. Erick E. Venola– or Lieutenant Colonel Erick E Venola, Retired, according to my mother’s adorable grandiosity– was an unassuming man. After serving in WWII he continued in the Army Engineers Reserves and supported us all–he wanted my mother at home– by working for AT&T, the telephone company. To make more money, he ran the boiler room at the main plant in downtown LA, a demanding job that required he work alone all night. He liked it. My mother said it was because of his solitary Finnish nature. Erick E Venola had started life in Harlem, New York City, in 1918 as Eino Erkki Venalainen, the only son of Finnish immigrants. Finns are very very close to Turks. I see echoes of my hardworking craftsman father all over these hans. I loved my father, and I love working stiffs.

Salt of the Earth ©2012 by Trici Venola.

Han means Workplace, and Buyuk Valide Han is full of these guys who show up and work all day at some anonymous job to support their families. They’ve been doing it here for 500 years. They were all in the Army. Some are in a multigenerational family business, some slave for others. Most would rather do something else, but this is the hand life dealt them. They cobble it together as best they can, and make it work.

Big Mother Han ©2009 by Trici Venola. 35 X 50 cm, Plein Air, pen and ink on paper. Available.

This is the Third Courtyard of Buyuk Valide Han. Can you see that it was once a church? We are looking down the nave at the altar. The arches down the left are openings to a side gallery once topped by domes, and are mirrored (out of the picture) on the right. The very top is later addition.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

A barrel-vault ceiling joined the two sides, and I’ll bet that’s the original floor down there: varicolored marble and granite chunks polished by centuries of feet, ground into dirt.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

This was a church clear up through Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, and continued under the Ottomans. I learned all this during a week in May 2009, while I was drawing this picture. The people in the Han told me. I found zero on this anywhere else.

The guidebooks peg this section of Buyuk Valide Han at 11th century, but the 3rd- and 4th-generation workers here proudly tell me it’s older, a lot older. They and their families have been preserving it for centuries– whitewashed and plastered, sure, but preserved. I believe them. I also believe the Byzantine brickwork I’ve seen under adjacent hans, like this one just down the hill, and gems like these in the Han itself.

Left: Frescoed flowers on plaster. Right: brick detail in an old window.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

It’s sublime, isn’t it? –with the bones of the church showing through the flesh of the workplace. Rumors abound of possible restoration, and I hope they may die. There are a million kitsch restorations in the world, but nothing like this exists anywhere: a live, irreplaceable, visual and visceral testimony to what has been and what is. Turning it into a fake old church or fake old caravansary would destroy that, besides being an insult to the hundreds of thousands of lives spent here in one vocation or another.

Walking along the passage formed by workshops built into the side galleries, one can look up and see the empty circles of vanished domes. That tower in the background is where Kosem Valide Sultan, the awesome dowager Sultana who built the Han,  is supposed to have hidden her treasure. It’s been dug, plumbed and sifted for centuries, but she must have meant some other tower, for no treasure was ever found that you could spend.  Here’s one I could draw: a surviving dome and window alcove of the church, now high above a workshop built into the space. I’ll have you know that I slogged up to Buyuk Valide Han last Wednesday in that blizzard and stood bolt upright, freezing, drawing, just to share this, and that’s why this post is so late. Wednesday, you say, and now it’s Sunday? You don’t think I did a whole dark drawing in an hour standing up in the cold, do you? I did the minimum I would need and the maximum I could stand, took photos, came home and spent hours rendering. Here’s where we started:

Chapel Workshop Rough ©2012 by Trici Venola

And here’s where we wound up: 

I was in too much of a hurry and blew the bottom of the drawing. Had to paste another piece of paper over it and work from a photo like this one, but I’m happy with what we got.

Like the workmen who have preserved them, my father would love the surviving frescoes. He made exquisite small things with his hands. A Christmas village out of cardboard, glitter, toothpicks and spit. A tiny George Washington town coach, complete with handles and windows, a miniature stagecoach. AT&T recognized this ability and put him in charge of installing PBX switchboards in the new music center downtown. Our low-income family had season tickets to the Music Center because he’d thought up the name for their newsletter, Top o’ The Mall.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Why didn’t he go for big money in the movie studios? Stability. He referred to AT&T with rueful tolerance his whole life, but he told me once that when you can’t find employer loyalty, you should find another job.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

He had that thing about stability because he’d been shifted around as a child. His father, Peter Venalainen, was a big black-haired Russian Finn who loved opera. He changed our name to Venola so people would think we were Italian, took to drink, and died just after Grandma divorced him. She joined the Women’s Christian Temperence Union and chopped up New York bars with an axe along with Carrie Nation, a movement that led to Prohibition. She and Daddy moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as a cook for movie people on location. He grew up in various friends’ houses and always wanted to stay put. So no career Army for him, it was the Reserves, Command and Staff, weekends off to the plane in uniform to one place or another. My mother loved him in uniform. He would never wear it for show, despised people who did. This grieved her for she enjoyed being seen with him in all his officer regalia. “Your father moves armies around in Vietnam,” she told us while counting out the grocery money.  He came up through the ranks in WWII, trained troops and never went overseas. He felt sorry for those whose lives peaked in that time, because his flowered slowly, with his family life. He read everything, sci-fi and action adventure and history. A champion marksman, he had a passion for guns, but never imposed it on anyone else, although he took a mighty pride in my brother’s gun expertise. He could fix anything. He gave every kid we knew a special pet name. We liked to hang out in his garage, a place of clutter and wonder.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Here he is with my mother in 1947 or so, in the backyard of our house in Echo Park, LA. It’s a picture of the American Dream. I like to think of them as they are here, young and unvanquished.

Erick & Loramae Venola in 1947

Both my parents are gone now. They lived good lives and died when they were old. In their souls they would have understood my Turkish epic, chasing a dream on a shoestring at this age, but in parenthood they would have been horrified. So I talk to their souls. I show Mama the Bosporus and the Dolmabache Palace, and I show Daddy Hagia Sophia and these Turkish workshops, so like his own, the men with hands and eyes and values like his. For his birthday, which was 94 years and a week ago. In my mind I walk Daddy all over the Han in his khaki workpants and checked shirt and green Asian eyes, his magnificent workman’s hands.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

He would fall in with these guys and compare welding techniques, admire tools. He would study how the place was adapted, how it was put together in the first place.  He would be fascinated with the whitewashed Byzantine arches leading from one shop to another, from one holy alcove to another.

Big Mother Han.detail ©2012 by Trici Venola

Where a monk walked and muttered and prayed, a blue-jeanned, blue-jawed guy in a stocking cap is listening to the radio and screwing together nargile pipes. I think Daddy would love this. I find I do. I was raised with a work ethic that has evolved, in my lifetime, to a zen-like devotion to my craft. As dancing is to a Dervish, creating something is prayer to me. So no kitsch church restoration, please, Buyuk Valide Han is perfect and sanctified already.  No matter how you find God, holy is holy.

Daddy & Friend,. Photo by Kurt Wahlner, Christmas 1987. All other photos ©2012 by Trici Venola. All drawings Plein Air by Trici Venola.

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 2: Drawing Jesus In Hagia Sophia

JESUS ROCKS

I finished drawing the mosaic of Jesus on the Winter Solstice, four days from Christmas, when Christians celebrate his birth. Solstice rites go back to pagan times, the celebration of the returning of the Sun, a religion-transcending human impulse to mark the happy turn of the year from darkness to light. Here’s a different Son being celebrated, and am I glad my homage is ready in time. Merry Christmas!

Jesus Rocks ©2011 by Trici Venola

  Why is it so beautiful?  The larger-than-life-size original is in glorious color, yet there’s something compelling about this little black and white study, only 12 X 20 inches. Maybe it’s because the absence of color forces one to pay attention to depth, arrangement, structure.  A strong composition works with or without color.

Starting to Draw Jesus ©2011 by Trici Venola

Everybody says “How do you start?” As seen above: slow, light, careful! I took it as far as I could in front of the original, then moved to the giant blowup photo across the way. As to the finish, I confess I did it here at home in about eight hours, looking at various closeup hi-def photos I took. I wanted to get the details right, I can’t get close enough to the original, and that blowup is only okay. As usual, I planned to only draw 10 X 17 inches and leave a nice white border, as I promised patron Michael Constantinou, but ran it to the edge of the page. I just couldn’t stop myself, Michael. You cover that with frame if you must!

Jesus Rocks.Eye Detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

 In the two days I sat in front of Jesus drawing him, dozens of people came up to the mosaic, gasped, stared, and took a picture, the guards’ chorus of “NO FIL LASH! NO FIL LASH!” echoing in counterpoint to the grinding click of the cameras. The thing is, everyone takes pictures. And most of them are sensational. It’s a glut on the eye, all that color and detail. So, a little black and white drawing, a human doing it, and slowly at that. Slow Life, you heard it here, and if I’d been blogging a few years ago, you’d’ve heard it here first. A portrait of a mosaic at this point in time, taking into account flaws, missing tiles, patterns. All the things that are specific to this image at this moment in its history, and may that history be much longer.

Jesus Rocks.Mouth Detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Originally I proposed to the Constantinou Family that I do a big drawing of the Dome Angel, but they’re out of wall space. So we hit on the idea of  small studies from the basilica. At first  I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a straight shot at Jesus, someone else’s art with no interpretation or odd angles, but I was wrong. Sometimes it works and you just don’t know why. While I’m drawing, I keep asking, “How can I make this drawing more interesting?” Here’s a section of the robe that had me stumped. Shades of blue and many little pale blotches on the surface. But just look at how many ways there are to render little square mosaic tiles! No formula: this is about giving permission, on a very deep level, to draw it as interestingly as you see it. If you’re bored, chances are it’ll look boring.

Jesus Rocks.Robe Detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Caroling with Canon Ian Sherwood at St. Helen’s Chapel, I met Tara, a Byzantine scholar doing postgraduate work here. She’s a mine of information. For starters, what I suspected is true: the geometric patterns on Hagia Sophia’s walls and ceilings, worked in gold and silver mosaic, are original Sixth Century. Along with Jesus, I’m drawing various architectural details. This one is from just next to the balustrade directly across the gallery from The Last Judgement.

Shadow Arch WIP 1 ©2011 by Trici Venola.

Here’s a photo of the same place:

I’ve always loved the silver mosaic there, and wanted to capture the mystery of the place and the aspect of old brickwork under old mosaic.

Shadow Arch WIP 1.Detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.

I started drawing the geometry almost by rote and was dumbstruck to see this pattern emerge. As you can see up in the photo, it looks like tapestry. You really have to look hard to detect the filigree wheels worked into the diamond. The general impression is simply one of lush, exquisite brocade. One of the assets of documentation in black and white is the necessary simplification, which reveals hidden treasures like these.

And at the top of the capital, check out the pattern! Flowers, yes, but notice how the negative spaces between the petals form small Catherine Wheels, going in opposite directions. St. Catherine was a particular favorite of Justinian’s; he founded St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Egypt. The Catherine Wheel represents the instrument of her torture said to have vanished by magic, leaving the Saint to be beheaded instead. This is considered romantic twaddle by some hagiographers. ls it romantic coincidence that Catherine Wheels often appear in the church motifs? Whether you believe in St Catherine or not, you can believe this: nobody carving this stuff in stone could coincidentally carve flowers that form Catherine Wheels.

Angel Panorama ©2011 Trici Venola

To draw this little side alcove, I’ve moved camp across the great sag in the marble floor to the balustrade. Every glance is a potential drawing taking many hours. I could spend the rest of my life inside Hagia Sophia and never begin to mine the wealth of drawing in there. What I love the most is the patina of age over the layers of visible history.

In one glance to the left, up top we have the third dome, built after the first two collapsed. Repainted by the Ottomans after 1453, it’s been restored by the Japanese over the past several years.

There’s the Angel under the dome, discovered in 1841 by the Fosatti Brothers under Sultan Abdulmedjid’s restoration and carefully covered up again until 2009, when it was unveiled to great fanfare. According to Tara, it was created around 1261, after the expulsion of the Western Romans.

The clerestory windows high up catch the light and make the massive dome appear to float, as early chroniclers tell us.

We’re looking north here; the altar is to our right. At the base of the group of windows are some icons that were painted over and have been restored.

Below those is the opposite gallery, with malachite columns scavenged from the ancient Gymnasium at Ephesus. To the right is one of Sultan Abdulmedjid’s four enormous calligraphy medallions, which proclaim his name, the names of his grandchildren, and the name of the Prophet.

Below this is the side gallery to the nave, with more malachite columns and Ottoman additions. The wooden railing is of a pattern I last saw on storm drain lids in the LA River. We called them Cat’s Faces. What a surprise to see them here!

Then there’s antique graffiti carved into the marble balustrade, and below that a very common thing in Hagia Sophia, an excised marble cross. And finally the cracked marble floor, bowed with the stress of centuries.

The Real Deal: Deesis Mosaic: The Last Judgement

The Jesus I’ve been drawing turns out to be not as old as we thought. Tara tells me that, despite the sign in front stating that the Deesis Mosaic The Last Judgement is 12-century, it was actually created in 1261. The great master artist is unknown, but his work is as close to immortal as art can be. Having it created was the first thing that the Christians of Constantinople did once they succeeded in expelling the Western Romans, when Dandolo who let them in had been exhumed and tossed out to the dogs, when the horror of the Fourth Crusaders had dimmed to a grim memory, when Hagia Sophia became again an Eastern Roman Christian temple. Islam’s proscription against imagery in art caused the pictures to disappear with the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453.

The Last Judgement and other mosaics were discovered under plaster in the 1940s, in their present devastated condition. All this time I thought it was Crusaders had scraped the gold off, since they trashed so much else, but these desecrators were Ottoman. At least they spared the faces, which is more than the Iconoclasts did. With all these art-destroying factions hacking away it’s a wonder that the Jesus survived at all. It’s enough to make you believe in miracles.

Jesus Rocks.Hand Detail ©2011 by Trici Venola.