A look at the myth of Venice through the medium of mosaic at San Marco

           The decoration of the Basilica of San Marco is a celebration of the created and appropriated myths of Venice. The mosaic programs of the exterior and interior portray narratives of St. Mark’s miracles and Venice’s success in obtaining a relic by stealing St. Mark’s body and thus legitimizing themselves as an important city in the medieval world. The mosaics depicting St. Mark also demonstrate an amalgamation of decorative mosaic techniques, styles and iconography adopted from areas of major influence on Venice such as Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople. The myth of Venice was developed through ecclesiastic and political pressures the Venetian state faced. Mosaics depicting St. Mark visually show how these pressures influenced the Venetian identity and how much external influence were key in their use of iconography. Venice used St. Mark as a symbol of their independence from both the east and west and the mosaics placed prominently in public on the façade and interior of San Marco reminded visitors of this independence. However, they never artistically divorced themselves from either western or eastern European influences because they believed it was possible to demonstrate their importance through the mimicry of cities with historically imperial significance. The Basilica of San Marco is decorated with more than 6,000 square meters of mosaics;[1]only one-third of the existing mosaics have not been damaged by restorations.[2] St. Mark appears in several mosaics throughout the interior and exterior of the Basilica; however, the narratives depicting the life of St. Mark and the translation of his relics  are memorialized in mosaic in four locations. These include the vault and wall of the north Choir Chapel, the vault and wall of the south Choir Chapel, the vault of the Zen Chapel and the four portals on the western façade. Discussed in this exhibit are these narrative mosaics, which are depictions relevant to the medieval period and the development of St. Mark’s role in the myth of Venice.

[1] James, 227

[2] Demus, Mosaic of San Marco, 18.