John Singer Sargent
American, 1856 – 1925
Interior of Santa Sophia, Constantinople, 1891
Oil on canvas
32 x 24 5/8 in. (81.3 x 62.5 cm.)
38 3/8 x 31 7/8 x 1 3/16 in. (97.5 x 81 x 3 cm.) (frame)
Purchase, Museum Art Fund  1960.5

Golden Light
In 1890, Sargent embarked on a tour of Egypt, Greece, and Turkey to study first-hand the history, legends, and monuments of ancient cultures, which would inform his planned mural cycle for the new Boston Public Library. In Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), he purportedly bribed an official to gain access to Hagia Sophia, the great mosque built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian as a Christian church in 537. With confident brushwork and a golden palette, Sargent captures in this sketch the grandeur and mystery of the building’s expansive, light-filled interior.