The horses of San Marcos

The horses of San Marcos
The horses of San Marcos

Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice is one of the most Byzantine monuments to be found outside of Byzantium, that is, today's Istanbuland the old city of Constantinople. It is a temple that was actually designed by architects from that city in the 11th century, and where endless mosaics of that style were incorporated.


Original Saint Mark's Horses

However, since it was built, the basilica has not stopped being decorated with more elements brought by Venetian merchants or donated by the dux of Venice, which after all he owned the temple as he used it as his private chapel.

Well, among all those things that were added, in the thirteenth century a real treasure arrived, and curiously also from Constantinople. We are talking about the Caballos de San Marcos. And also at that time, and as a result of the IV Crusade itself, another surprising sculptural group such as the Tetrarchs would also arrive at the Basilica.

Today the sculptures of the Horses of Saint Mark are kept in the museum inside the basilica for conservation reasons. Although outside there are some replicas of them in their initial location, in the so-called Loggia dei cavalli that rises above the square, and which was the favorite place for speeches or for the doge will entertain his visitorsmost illustrious.


Horses of Saint Mark replicas

These four horses would originally be a larger sculptural group, since it would include a chariot on its back. It is a sculpture made by Greek artists, from the post-classical period around the 4th century BC, and there are even historians who think that it could have been made by Lysippus himself, author of such famous works as the Apoxyomenos or the Farnese Hercules.

The fact is that the work would be found in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, and when the crusaders arrived there in the 13th century, they took (among many other treasures) this sculpture as loot and it was donated to the basilica, being placed on its façade, over the portico.

But it wasn't to be the last ride for these gilt-copper modeled horses. Long after that another conqueror came to Venice. We are talking about Napoleon, who had the work dismantled and transferred to Paris. Something similar to what happened to the chariot that crowns the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, which was also requisitioned by Bonaparte, to later be returned after the fall from grace of the emperor.

The same thing happened with the Horses of San Marcos, who also returned to the city of canals. And today we can see them in duplicate, the copy on the outside and the originals from the year 1980 in the museum inside the temple.

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