The Replacement of the Heads in the Constantine IX Mosaic: Financial Reasons
The mosaic of Constantine IX in St. Sophia is one of the most peculiar and mysterious pieces of Byzantine art. It depicts the emperor, the empress, and Christ, and was made during the reign of Constantine IX Monomachos (r. 1042-1055). However, the heads of all three figures were replaced at some point during the twelfth century. The most convincing explanation for this replacement is that it was done for financial reasons.
2. The most convincing explanation for the replacement of the heads of the emperor, the empress, and Christ in the mosaic of Constantine IX in St. Sophia
There are several theories as to why the heads of the emperor, the empress, and Christ were replaced in the mosaic of Constantine IX in St. Sophia. One theory posits that it was done for political reasons, as a way to underline the power of the new emperor, Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180). Another theory suggests that it was done for religious reasons, as a way to make the mosaic more “orthodox” in light of iconoclasm. However, the most convincing explanation is that it was done for financial reasons.
It is known that mosaics were expensive to make, and even more expensive to restore. Given that Constantine IX Monomachos was not a particularly wealthy emperor, it is likely that he could not afford to have the mosaic restored after it was damaged. It is also worth noting that, by the twelfth century, Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair and was in need of significant restoration work. This would have been costly, and so it is possible that replacing the heads of the figures in the mosaic was seen as a way to save money.
It has been suggested that Zoe may have been responsible for ordering the replacement of the heads in the mosaic. Zoe was Constantine IX’s third wife (and eventually his empress), and she was known for her love of luxury and extravagance. It is possible that she saw replacing the heads in the mosaic as a way to show off her wealth and power, and to outdo her predecessor, Theodora Porphyrogenita (r. 1042-1056).
In conclusion, there are several theories as to why the heads of Constantine IX, Zoe, and Christ were replaced in the famous mosaic in St. Sophia. However, the most convincing explanation is that it was done for financial reasons. This makes sense given the relative poverty of Constantine IX Monomachos and the need for significant restoration work at Hagia Sophia in the twelfth century.