"We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth...we only knew that God dwells there among men."—Ambassadors to Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus' on seeing the churches of Constantinople, 987 CE.
The splendor of Byzantine Christian art—preserved through the ages in early Christian churches in both Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, and the Cappadocia region of Turkey—is the focus of an expanded, large-scale photography exhibition.
Sacred Spaces: The Photography of Ahmet Ertug, a two-part exhibition fittingly presented under the vaulted ceilings of the Museum's first floor Merle-Smith Galleries, features 26 works by innovative, acclaimed Turkish photographer Ahmet Ertug. Through his lens and with his exceptionally large-scale prints, Ertug captures the grandeur of the ancient Byzantine churches, all designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, in crisp, bright, detailed photographs. A digital-screen slide show of exterior images of the churches, and an interactive kiosk where visitors can explore the rich iconography depicted in Ertug's photographs, enhance the exhibition.
In Vaults of Heaven: Visions of Byzantium, which opened in the fall of 2011, Ertug documents the interiors of three churches—the Karankik Kilise (Dark Church), the New Church of Tokali (Buckle Church), and the Meryem Ana Kilisesi (Church of the Mother of God)—all more than 900 years old. The photographs include close-up views of elaborate wall paintings depicting classic Christian scenes from the life of Christ and images of saints. Also included are images revealing the dramatic interior architecture of these churches, places that have inspired, and continue to inspire, generations of worshippers and admirers.
Opening on April 12, Heaven on Earth: Churches of Constantinople moves viewers from countryside to the heart of ancient Byzantine power. The exhibition features glorious photographs of the interiors of the most famous churches in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey): the grand, legendary Hagia Sophia and the smaller Church of Christ at the Chora Monastery.
About the Photographer
Internationally renowned photographer Ahmet Ertug, a 1974 graduate of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, practiced architecture in England, Iran, and Turkey. His commitment to photography started with a year-long Japan Foundation Fellowship to study architecture in Japan, where he traveled extensively and photographed the ancient temples, Zen gardens, and festivals.
Returning to his native country and to Istanbul, Ertug came to a realization: "the foundation of creativity is the profound knowledge of one's heritage." He has photographed much of that city's impressive Byzantine, Ottoman, and Roman remains, using a large-format camera that has enabled him to capture their full splendor. In the 1980s, he established his own publishing house, producing 25 specially designed books of his photographs that are now recognized for their innovation in the printing industry.
His photographs have been exhibited widely around the world; a permanent exhibition of his Hagia Sophia photographs is on display in the upper gallery of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
The exhibition was originally organized by the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. For the new installation, guest curator Dr. Robert Ousterhout, Professor of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, provided new text, iconographic information, and regional photography.
On Sunday, April 13, 1:00 to 5:00 pm, the Penn Museum will host a free related symposium, “From Constantinople to Cappadocia,” sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Ancient Studies.
Photos, top to bottom: Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), Turkey, Istanbul, built 532-537 CE. Photographic print by Ahmet Ertug, 2005–2006. Middle: Ahmet Ertug, photograph by Liz Dixon. Bottom: Meryem Ana Kilisesi (Church of the Mother of God), Turkey, Istanbul, first half of the 11th century CE. Photographic print by Ahmet Ertug, 2005–2006.