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A History of Art for Beginners and Students

Sophia is the absence of painted glass


Silentiarius was a poet; he saw St. Sophia in all its glory and describes it with enthusiasm. It was very rich in variegated marbles. He mentions the following: 1. _The Carystian_, pale with iron veins. 2. _The Phrygian_, two sorts, both of a rosy hue; one with a white shade, the other purple with silver flowers. 3. _The Porphyry of Egypt_, with small stars. 4. _The green marble of Laconia._ 5. _The Carian_, from Mount Iassis, with oblique veins, white and red. 6. _The Lydian_, pale, with a red flower. 7. _The African or Mauritanian_, of a gold or saffron hue. 8. _The Celtic_, black, with white veins. 9. _The Bosphoric_, white, with black edges. There were also the _Proconnesian_, which made the pavement; and the _Thessalian_ and _Molossian_ in different parts.

This array of marbles was made even more effective by the beautiful columns brought from older temples. The mosaics were rich in color, and numerous, and many parts of the church were covered with gold, so that the effect was dazzling.

Those objects that were most sacred were of solid gold and silver, while such as were less important were only covered with gold-leaf. In the sanctuary there was altogether forty thousand pounds of silver; the vases and vessels used about the altar were of pure gold and studded with gems. Its whole cost was almost beyond belief. At the close of his description Gibbon says: "A magnificent temple is a laudable monument of

taste and religion, and the enthusiast who entered the dome of St. Sophia might be tempted to suppose that it was the residence or even the workmanship of the Deity. Yet how dull is the artifice, how insignificant is the labor, if it be compared with the formation of the vilest insect that crawls upon the surface of the temple!"

Of course, individual taste must largely influence the opinion regarding the beauty of any work of art, but to me St. Sophia, which is the chief example of Byzantine architecture, is far less beautiful and less grand than the finest Gothic cathedrals. Comparatively little attention was paid to the elegance and decoration of the exterior in the Eastern edifices, while the interiors, in spite of all their riches, have a flat and unrelieved effect. Probably the chief reason for this is that color is substituted for relief--that is to say, in Gothic architecture heavy mouldings and panellings, though of the same color as the walls themselves, yet produce a marvellous effect of light and shadow, and even lend an element of perspective to various parts of the building. In the place of these mouldings flat bands of color are often used in the Byzantine order, and the whole result is much weakened, though a certain gorgeousness comes from the color. Another cause of disappointment in St. Sophia is the absence of painted glass. At the same time, and in spite of these defects, St. Sophia is grand and beautiful--but not solemn and impressive in comparison with the dim cathedral aisles of many Gothic churches in other parts of the world. (See Fig. 97.)


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