2018-02-07 / Front Page

Following Byzantine Footsteps: Horses of San Marco

By Catherine Tsounis

The Horses of San Marco Basilica.The Horses of San Marco Basilica.“When people conquer, they destroy,” said our guide Moses Vi A country’s masterpieces are destroyed. The Horses of Constantinople’s Hippodrome were miraculously saved. DNA testing show they are from 200 B.C.” They are an exceptional art work, coveted and stolen by world leaders. Why? The Triumphal Quadriga represents POWER.

The 13-foot-tall horses were placed on the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica after the “sack of Constantinople” in 1204. Doge Enrico Dandolo wanted the Horses back in Venice to show the Republic’s power. It is certain that the horses, along with the quadriga with which they were depicted, were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The horses may be the “four gilt horses that stand above the Hippodrome” that “came from the island of Chios under Theodosius II” mentioned in the 8th or early 9th Century Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai (brief historical notes)… The horses remained in place over St Mark's until the early 1980s, when the ongoing damage from growing air pollution forced their replacement with exact copies. Since then, the originals have been on display just inside the basilica.1

Venice was given the title “favorite daughter of Byzantium” in 1000 by Basil II, as such the Venetians’ prided themselves in possessing an edifice which shared the same magnificent architectural design as the ancient basilicas of the Twelve Apostles and of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. ...The horses remained in Venice until looted by Napoleon in 1797. On Napoleon’s orders, the Four Horses were forcibly removed from the basilica and carried off to France… In 1815 the horses were returned to Venice by Captain Dumaresq. The horses remained in place over St Mark's until the early 1980s, when the ongoing damage from growing air pollution forced their replacement with exact copies. Since then, the originals have been on display just inside the basilica. 2

Charles Freeman has written the definitive study in “The Horses of St. Mark’s: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice.” “One of the most important developments in our understanding of classical art is an appreciation of the importance of public display in the ancient world…Classical cities diverted a high proportion of their resources including the skills of trained craftsmen as well as precious metals of fine marbles into images for public display. A group of four horses had an immediate resonance as a symbol of triumph… A quadriga (four horses) was an appropriate way of showing off success.”3

My study of various books and internet sources state different origins of the “Horses of San Marco”. Author Freeman, who was in quest for truth, said “another major development in the study of classical art is the blurring between Greek & Roman art once thought to be secure. Greek styles were reused by the Romans…The ‘Horses’ over the centuries have fooled in proclaiming they are Greek or Roman…There are many sites they could have originated. Among them Rome, Delphi and Chios…”

Freeman continues saying “A century after Constantinople, another team of four horses was set up as a prominent feature in the hippodrome where they stood till the 12th century. These horses were said to have been brought by the Emperor Theodosius II from the Greek island of Chios in the early 5th century.”4
 

“The Horses of Constantinople’s Hippodrome were the greatest treasure of the Greeks and Constantinople,” said our guide Moses. “Ships at sea could see the horses from afar as the sun strikes them.” We are all privileged to see them today in Venice.
 
References:
1.                   http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=5781#sthash.fJKFmjjZ.dpbs
2.                   http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=5781#sthash.fJKFmjjZ.dpbs
3.                   Freeman, Charles. “The Horses of St. Mark’s: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice.” https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=ajsjCQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PT7&d...
4.                    Freeman.
 
Links:
http://etc.ancient.eu/uncategorized/the-horses-of-st-marks/
http://www.romeacrosseurope.com/?p=5781#sthash.S5rW7Jpr.dpbs
https://www.google.com/search?q=san+marco+cathedral+as+a+greek+church&rl...


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