"Four Horses," ca. 2d century, Museo della Basilic di San Marco, Venice, Italy, (ARTstor)

The Venetians placed the grouping of the four bronze horses, or the Quadriga,  above the central portal of San Marco to function as a representation of their victory and dominance over the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople.  These bronze horses, cast in the second century and gilt with gold, were originally located in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which was a track for ancient chariot races, a meeting ground for political factions, and the end location of imperial processions.[1. Fabio Barry, “Disiecta membra: Ranieri Zeno, the Imitation of Constantinople, the Spolia Style and Justice at San Marco.” In San Marco, Byzantium and the Myths of Venice, ed. Henry Maguire and Robert S. Nelson. (Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection), 15.]  In antiquity the Quadriga was most likely connected to a chariot in which the Emperor Constantine stood.  Constantine founded the city of Constantinople, and established it as the capital of the Roman Empire when he shifted his attention eastward; it subsequently became the capital of the Byzantine Empire when Rome was sacked.  It has also been suggested that the Quadriga pulled Sol Invictus, or the Unconquered Sun, a deity of an ancient Roman religious cult.[2. Charles Freeman, The Horses of Saint Mark’s, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2004), 17-20.]  By moving the horses to San Marco, the Venetains transformed the horses into a representation of Venice as the unconquerable and imperial power in the Latin Empire, and therefore transformed the identity of Venice to a dominant power in the Byzantine East.


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