@Dumbarton Oaks

Series 02 - Photographic Documentation, 1985, 1989

Identity area

Reference code

DcWaDIC MS.BZ.011-01-02


Photographic Documentation, 1985, 1989


  • 1985, 1989 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

approximately 600 color photographic prints, negatives, and slides
1 photo album

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

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Compiles the photographic documentation of the “Kariye Museum Project,” the partially uncovered mosaics in the eastern arch in Hagia Sophia from the top of the scaffolding, and other sites throughout Istanbul including the Great Palace Mosaic Museum and the city walls. There are also photographs of Charles Tauss, Betty Spitz, Şinasi Başeğmez, Cyril Mango, and Marlia Mundell Mango. The materials consist of color photographic prints, negatives, and slides.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Arranged by photographic film roll number.

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

All negatives and slides have been moved to ICFA’s cold storage for preservation purposes.

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Rights area

Related right

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





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Rights note(s)

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.



Related right

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





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