The Horses of St. Mark's: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris, and Venice

The Horses of St. Mark's: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris, and Venice

Charles Freeman

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 1590202678

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Horses of St. Mark's in Venice are among art's finest creations-and certainly one with a story like no other.

Celebrated historian Charles Freeman, author of the 2009 surprise hit A.D. 381, explores the mysterious origin of the statues and their turbulent movements through Europe over the centuries: in Constantinople, at both its founding and sacking in the Fourth Crusade; in Venice, at both the height of its greatness and fall in 1797; in the Paris of Napoleon, and the revolutions of 1848; and back in Venice, the most romantic city in the world. In this remarkable new book, Freeman shows how the horses came to stand at the heart of European history time and time again.

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separately. It might be thought that with this triumph Cellini’s work was virtually complete. Yet it took him a further three or four years of labour on the bronze to perfect it for display. Each hole left by the pins which held the mould together had to be filled in and burnished over; minor blemishes left by gases had to be erased and some details of the statue slightly recast. Wings were added to Perseus’ head and a realistic ‘flow of blood’ from Medusa’s. An iron sword was fixed to Perseus’

through the little Maltese dog who sits on the floor transfixed by the light. It is said that Carpaccio modelled his Augustine on Cardinal Bessarion – formerly the archbishop of Nicaea – who had granted special indulgences to the confraternity and who, as noted earlier, had donated a great library of Greek manuscripts to Venice in 1468. The study is that of the quintessential Renaissance scholar. Books, music, astrolabes and an armillary sphere are neatly placed around the well-ordered room.

was the Church of the Holy Apostles but as the emperor chose to be buried in it as the ‘thirteenth apostle’, with sepulchres representing the original apostles grouped around him, this was in effect a church dedicated to himself. Constantinople, as its name suggests, was a showcase city for the glorification of the emperor. An audience hall could hold only a limited number and an emperor like Constantine, who had total confidence in himself, needed a larger arena in which to display himself in

brought an economic slump and there were others who pointed out the inequity of buying ancient sculptures when so many were starving. In the event Canova helped break the deadlock by announcing that the marbles were superior to the statues of the Vatican which he had just saved, and that they had opened his eyes to the skills of the ancients before these had been debased by the desire of later generations for ‘conventional and mathematical symmetry’. ‘Everything here breathes life, with a

score highly. They are easily recognizable as prestige items, were designed for public display and, above all, have proved transportable. This means they have been eminently usable as symbols of plunder and triumph. Certainly this is why they were brought to Venice, and later to Paris, and it may have been the reason why they were in Constantinople in the first place. They have benefited in particular from the settings in which they were displayed – the hippodrome, St Mark’s and the Arc du

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