@Dumbarton Oaks

Collection MS.BZ.011 - Charles Tauss Papers and Records of the Kariye Camii Museum Project, ca. 1955-1990s

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Reference code



Charles Tauss Papers and Records of the Kariye Camii Museum Project, ca. 1955-1990s


  • ca. 1955-1990s (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1 box of papers
1 box of approximately 70 black and white photographs and 670 color photographs
1 album of 24 color photographs
1 box of approximately 126 negative film strips
1 box of 31 slides

Context area

Name of creator

Tauss, Charles (1927-2000)

Biographical history

Charles Francis Tauss was born on March 10, 1927 in New York City. He served in the U.S. Army of the Occupation in France and Germany circa 1945, designing graphics for military projects and rendering architectural drawings for the Air Force Headquarters in Weisbaden, Germany. He studied art at The Cooper Union and then entered a graduate program at the Yale University School of Art in the 1950s, where he studied painting and art history. Tauss was a student of the influential painter and color theorist Josef Albers and subsequently worked for Albers as a studio assistant. During his studies, Tauss received a fellowship in art conservation at the Yale University Art Gallery and also worked in the conservation department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Tauss was hired by the Byzantine Institute in 1954, and he worked with Carroll Wales and Constantine Tsaousis to conserve the wall paintings at Kariye Camii in Istanbul, under the direction of Ernest Hawkins and Paul Underwood. Tauss simultaneously completed his degree in 1955 and continued the fieldwork seasons in Istanbul until 1956. His master’s thesis, “The Church of Christ in Chora (Kariyeh Djami): Notes on the Parecclesion,” was partly informed by his work with the Byzantine Institute in regards to the analysis of the original wall painting technique and chemistry, as well as cleaning and restoration techniques.

Beginning in 1961, Tauss became the studio assistant to Josef Albers. After Albers’ death in 1976, Tauss continued as the painting conservator for the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in Bethany, Connecticut, until 1982. Over the years, Tauss intermittently traveled throughout eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region, working as an art consultant specializing in Byzantine art. Tauss was also a conservation consultant to Princeton University, the University of Toronto, and various private collections. His credentials include the Institute of Museum Services Certificate and the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works Fellow Certificate. Tauss continued to establish himself as a painter and sculptor, exhibiting in galleries, and also acquired artworks for his own collection.

Tauss returned to Istanbul on multiple occasions throughout his life. In October 1984, Tauss was asked by his friend, Şinasi Başeğmez, the curator of the Hagia Sophia and the Kariye Camii Museums, to examine the present condition of the wall paintings at the Kariye Camii. Roughly thirty years after the conservation campaign by the Byzantine Institute in the 1950s, a whitish, crystallizing layer of salt deposits had formed on the interior walls, spreading over the wall paintings due to the moisture and lack of air circulation in the building. Previously in 1980, an Italian conservation team led by Paolo Mora examined the wall paintings and provided a report on their physical condition and recommendations for their treatment. The Director of the Hagia Sophia Museum, Erdem Yücel, who oversaw the Kariye Camii, and Başeğmez asked Tauss to undertake conservation of a section of wall paintings during his 1984 visit. Tauss completed the restoration of the Virgin Eleousa wall painting in the parekklesion of Kariye Camii, convincing Yücel and Başeğmez that he was capable of restoring the rest of the wall paintings. Tauss was asked to return the next year, since a portion of the funding was guaranteed by Çelik Gülersoy, General Director of the Touring and Automobile Association of Turkey and by the Directorate of the Hagia Sophia Museum, for the fieldwork season September 26 to October 19, 1985.

As the work was being done voluntarily, Tauss and his assistant Betty Spitz also raised private funds in the United States to cover the project budget, which included expenses for tools, cleaning solvents, photography, scaffolds, and air freight. They solicited donations for the “Kariye Museum Project” (the name used to identify the conservation project and for the purpose of raising funds), through the Cultural Council Foundation in New York in 1985 and the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1989. A New York Times article, “2 Americans Salvaging Byzantine Art,” published on October 26, 1985, suggests that the conservation work was to continue in 1986, but there are no verifying records. While Tauss and Spitz visited Istanbul in 1987 and were in contact with the Hagia Sophia Museum and prospective funders in 1988, there are no records of additional conservation work being done in those years. Indeed, correspondence between Tauss and the museum Director suggests that the work was halted.

The next official fieldwork season was September 16 to October 7, 1989. Başeğmez had retired from the Museum, but still acted as a museum consultant and continued to oversee the project. It is not clear whether Tauss and Spitz continued any physical work on the wall paintings during this season, or how close they were to finishing the project. Their time was spent examining the condition of the wall paintings at the Kariye Camii and studying other Byzantine sites in Istanbul. Also at this time, the Hagia Sophia Museum was undergoing building restoration in the east side of the dome. Mosaics were partially uncovered in the eastern arch. Tauss and Cyril Mango, who was in Istanbul at the time, confirmed that the mosaics dated from the time of John V Palaiologos, ca. 1355 and had not been uncovered since the Fossati restoration in the 19th century. Tauss also consulted with conservators from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who were working on the mosaics in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum in Istanbul at the time. Tauss developed a proposal and budget for the conservation of the Hagia Sophia mosaics, but the project funding never came to fruition.

Though the mosaic discovery seemed to sideline the “Kariye Museum Project” in 1989, Tauss and Spitz still provided recommendations to the Museum administration for preventative care, including repairs to the roof, a redesign of the garden, and temperature and humidity controls to decrease the level of moisture in the Kariye Camii building. There is no evidence that the “Kariye Museum Project” was completed. In the late 1980s, Tauss’s health began to decline, but he continued to make art for the rest of his life. On July 30, 2000, Charles Tauss passed away in New York City.

Name of creator

Spitz, Betty Sara (1933-2011)

Biographical history

Assistant to conservator Charles Tauss, who worked on the Kariye Camii Museum Project between 1984 and 1989. Spitz was the administrator of Tauss's estate.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Natalia Teteriatnikov, former Curator of Byzantine Photograph and Fieldwork Archives (now ICFA) received the collection in 2002 from the Estate of Charles Tauss through the administrator of the estate, Betty Spitz. A Deed of Gift first administered by Teteriatnikov was revised by Sheila Klos, Head Librarian of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, and was signed by Spitz on September 16, 2002.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This collection primarily contains administrative and photographic documentation for the wall painting conservation conducted by Charles Tauss and his assistant Betty Spitz at the Kariye Camii in Istanbul between 1984 and 1989, by permission of the Directorate of the Hagia Sophia Museum. The conservation work is referred to as the “Kariye Museum Project” (KMP), a name used for identifying the project for fundraising and promotional purposes. The collection consists of administrative and fundraising correspondence, conservation and meeting notes, newspaper clippings, photographic documentation, and related publications and ephemera. In addition to the work at the Kariye Camii, the collection materials also reference proposed work at the Hagia Sophia Museum to clean and conserve mosaics in the eastern arch, which were partially uncovered during building restoration work in 1989. Some records refer to conserving wall paintings at St. Euphemia, but the nature of the work is not defined.

The collection also includes Tauss’s master’s thesis, “The Church of Christ in Chora (Kariyeh Djami): Notes on the Parecclesion,” for his graduate degree at the Yale University School of Art in 1955. The thesis is partly informed by his experience working for the Byzantine Institute as a painting conservator, conducting fieldwork at Kariye Camii in the 1950s. Also included is Tauss’s personal black and white photography, mostly depicting sites in Istanbul from 1961 and 1975, and later color photography of the interior of his Bronx apartment in the 1980s-1990s.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

The collection is arranged into two subgroups: Papers of the “Kariye Museum Project” and Personal Documents

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access to the materials is unrestricted, with the exception of photographic materials in cold storage, which are not accessible. Appointment is required for access because researcher space is limited: http://www.doaks.org/icfa-appointment-request-form. For research queries, contact the staff of Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (icfa@doaks.org).

Conditions governing reproduction

For publication use, researchers must obtain permission from the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks.

Language of material

  • English
  • Turkish

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Negatives are stored in ICFA cold storage for preservation purposes.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

At Dumbarton Oaks:

At other institutions:

Publication note

Gülersoy, Çelik. Kariye (Chora). Istanbul: İstanbul Kitaplığı, 1983.

Kamm, Henry. “2 Americans Salvaging Byzantine Art.” The New York Times (October 26, 1985): 13.

Tauss, Charles. “The Church of Christ in Chora (Kariyeh Djami): Notes on the Parecclesion.” Master’s thesis, Yale University School of Art, 1955.

Notes area

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Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)



Level of detail


Dates of creation revision deletion

This record was created by Shalimar White on January 27, 2014 and August 6, 2015.




  • Kariye Mosque: The Old Hora Monastery. Istanbul: Güzel Sanatlar Matbaası, 1979.
  • Underwood, Paul A. The Kariye Djami. Bollingen Series 70. New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1966.
  • Underwood, Paul A. “First Preliminary Report on the Restoration of the Frescoes in the Kariye Camii at Istanbul by the Byzantine Institute 1952-1954.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 9/10 (1955-1956): 253-288.

Archivist's note

This collection was initially processed by Gerri Schaad and the staff of the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives in 2008. The finding aid was updated by Rona Razon, Archivist, in November 2010. Negatives and slides were moved to cold storage for preservation purposes in Fall 2012 and Fall 2014 (accession numbers: 2012.0069.0001-.0118 and 2014.0006.0001-.0037) by ICFA Departmental Assistant Jessica Cebra.

Previously the collection was divided into two series: Records and Correspondence, and Photographs and Negatives. The “Kariye Museum Project” notes, correspondence, and other paper-based materials from the 1980s were grouped together with Tauss’s 1955 Master’s thesis. Additionally, all of Tauss’s photographs, negatives, and slides were grouped together despite dating from different time periods and their varying subject matter. It is not known whether the physical arrangement of the collection had any relation to how Tauss originally kept his files.

Based on chronology and an understanding of why the materials were created, Cebra created two new subgroups in order to separate and prioritize the bulk of the materials: Papers of the “Kariye Museum Project” and Personal Documents.

Two series were created for the first subgroup. The first series, Administrative Records, comprises three subseries: Correspondence and Fundraising, Conservation and Meeting Notes, and Related Publications and Postcards. The second series contains photographic documentation of the “Kariye Museum Project.” Two series were also created for the second subgroup. The first series, Master’s Thesis, comprises a copy of his graduate degree thesis and copies of the accompanying illustrations. Although the thesis shares the topic of Kariye Camii and most likely informed conservation techniques during the 1980s “Kariye Museum Project,” it was created much earlier in Tauss’s life and thus relates more closely to the fieldwork project with the Byzantine Institute in the 1950s. The second series consists of Tauss’s personal photography not related to the “Kariye Museum Project” years. The collection title was also changed from Charles Tauss Papers and Photographs to Charles Tauss Papers and Records of the Kariye Museum Project, ca.1955-1990s.

Collection assessment, research, physical arrangement, and re-housing were completed by Cebra in Fall 2014. The finding aid was edited and finalized by Cebra, Rona Razon, Shalimar White (Manager of ICFA), and Fani Gargova (Byzantine Research Associate) in May 2015.

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Preferred Citation: Charles Tauss Papers and Records of the Kariye Museum Project, ca.1955-1990s, PH.BZ.011, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.

Use the following preferred citation for the photographic materials in Subgroup 01, Series 02, and Subgroup 02, Series 02, Box 04 and 05: Donation by Estate of Charles Tauss, Charles Tauss Papers and Records of the Kariye Museum Project, ca.1955-1990s, PH.BZ.011, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.



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269.9 KiB


August 12, 2015 2:56 PM

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