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Among the research projects which are always under way in the work-rooms of the Fogg Museum, the latest concerns the 11th century mosaics of the mosque of Santa Sophia at Istanboul. Freed in the last five years from their covering of Turkish plaster and decoration, these have proved to be the work of a master school, surpassing all the provincial mosaics which have hitherto been known. The Museum is now devising a method for making copies of them, as a record for students and an inspiration to artists, and the workshop has been conducting experiments on three different lines in the hope of reproducing not only their color but the surface texture and the pattern of the tiny cubes that compose the mosaic.
The mosaics have a peculiar quality to them which means that a special process to reproduce this quality is needed. In making the great works of art, the cartoon was first painted on the plaster and the cubes were pressed into it while still wet. The artists engaged in this project were far advanced in technique. They understood well the value of gold in their backgrounds for an effect of space filled with light, and they learned to incline all the cubes slightly forward to meet directly the line of sight from below, thus gaining the utmost in clearness and brilliance.
In the Fogg workshop are two painted panels which reproduce the mosaic portrait of the emperor Constantinus Monomachos. These are the first two experiments. In the first the actual pattern of the cubes was transferred from a full six photographic print to a prepared panel of gesso. The form of each cube was then laboriously incised into the gesso and painted in tempera. The second experiment was made directly on a photostat. The form of each cube in this case was raised with gesso, somewhat in the manner of the raised letters in a medieval manuscript, and them painted with glue tempera.
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