Saint Mark’s Horses
Thought to be made in 4th century BC
Location: St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Northern Italy
Artist: Greek sculptor Lysippos
The ancient “Saint Mark’s Horses ” statues are from classical antiquity and are thought to be made by Greek sculptor Lysippos, though it is argued about whether he is the creator of these sculptures. Lysippos, who lived during the 4th century BC,is considered to be one of the greatest sculptors of the Classical Greek era.
It is said that St. Mark’s Horses may have come from the island of Chios ( the fifth largest of the Greek islands), since four horses and a quadriga (a type of chariot that was also used in the Ancient Olympic Games) was mentioned in the Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai, more commonly called “brief Historical Notes”text dated from the 8th or ninth century, but this theory is also argued. If it is true, the horses stayed there until 1204, when they were looted by Venetian forces as part of the sack of the capital of the Byzantine Empire in the Fourth Crusade. Interestingly, the collars on the horses necks that you can see in the photo above were added about this time to cover the areas that their necks and heads had been removed to allow then to be transported from Constantinople to Venice.
Soon after the Fourth Crusade, Doge Enrico Dandolo (Doge meaning a civil officer or lay judge in Venice or Genoa) sent the horses to Venice, where they were installed on the terrace of the façade of St. Mark’s Basilica in 1254.
In 1797, Napoleon had the horses forcibly removed from the basilica and carried off to Paris, where they were used in the design of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel together with a quadriga.
Replica of St. Marks Horses on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris, France. Photo Credit:
In 1815 the horses were returned to Venice by Captain Dumaresq, who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo and along with the allied forces in Paris. He was selected, by the Emperor of Austria, to take the horses down from the Arc de Triomphe and return them to their original place at St Mark’s in Venice. For doing an excellent job bringing the horses back to Venice, the Emperor gave him a gold snuff box with his initials in diamonds on the lid.
The Final Travels of The Horses of St. Mark
Until the early 1980s, the horses remained untouched over St. Marks. But with growing air pollution that would make the statues deteriorate quicker, they were removed and brought in side St. Marks and can still be seen inside the basilia. They were replaced with exact copies that can be seen outside.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about these amazing statues of a classic era!
Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !