Mosaic of Jesus and his ancestors (Genealogy of Christ) by Unknown Byzantine artist

Unknown Byzantine artist

Mosaic of Jesus and his ancestors (Genealogy of Christ), 1315–21, Mosaic, Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Picade LLC / Alamy Stock Photo

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The Descendants of Christ Pantocrator

Commentary by
Read by Ben Quash

The Genealogy of Christ is a fourteenth-century mosaic that decorates the southern dome of Chora Church, now the Kariye Museum, Istanbul. In the apex of the dome, we see Christ Pantocrator, a celebrated Eastern Orthodox icon that imagines Christ as ‘God Almighty’ or ‘Ruler of All’. The icon shows Christ gazing towards the beholder with a sober expression. In his left hand, he holds the Holy Bible, and his right hand is lifted in a sign of blessing. 

The base of the drum of the dome is decorated with two cycles of Old Testament characters. The lowest cycle depicts a ring of Jacob’s children who represent the tribes of Israel and Judah. Above them we see a cycle of other Old Testament characters who are identifiable as members of Christ’s genealogy as enumerated in Luke 3:25–37, from Adam to Jacob. The name of each ancestor is inscribed above him in Greek, and in some cases an attribute drawn from the biblical narrative is also included. For example, directly below Christ Pantocrator is Adam, who stands above a snake in reference to Genesis 3. In a similar way, Noah holds an ark.

Situated beneath the watchful gaze of Christ Pantocrator, these figures and the narratives they represent fall under the sovereign authority radiating from the central punctum. In Eastern iconography, the use of a visual cycle emphasizes the continuing trajectory of Christ’s reign (Ousterhout 1995: 63). Defying chronological beginnings and ends, the divinity of Christ permeates outwards, throughout the dome and into the space where countless generations of Christian believers gather under his sovereign gaze. 



Cimok, Fatih. 2009. Chora: Mosaics and Frescoes (Istanbul: A Turizm Yayınları Limited) 

Inomata, Keisuke, Shigeyuki Okazaki, and Kazuhiko Yanagisawa. 2011. ‘Functions of Mountains in Visual Composition of Christian Paintings in the Chora Church’, Intercultural Understanding, 1: 25–30

Ousterhout, Robert. 1995. ‘Structuring in the Chora Parekklesion’, Gesta, 34.1: 63–76

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