Horses of Saint Mark

The Triumphal Quadriga or Horses of Saint Mark is a set of Roman or Greek bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing).

Origin and manufacture

The sculptures date from late classical antiquity and have been attributed to the Greek sculptor Lysippos, although this has not been widely accepted. Although called bronze, analysis suggests that as they are at least 96.67% copper [Anon 1979 "The Horses of San Marco" Thames and Hudson an English translation of a 1977 Venetian city government publication p191] , they should be seen as an impure copper rather than bronze. The high copper content increased the casting temperature to 12-1300oC [ibid p199] . The high purity copper was chosen to give a more satisfactory mercury gilding [ibid p185] . Given current knowledge of ancient technology, this method of manufacture suggests a Roman rather than a Hellenistic origin [ibid chapter W.A.Oddy et al. The gilding of bronze statues in the Greek and Roman world] .


Although their exact origin remains unknown, it is certain that the horses were long displayed at the hippodrome of Constantinople. They were still there in 1204, when they were looted by Venetian forces as part of the sack of the capital of the Byzantine Empire in the fourth Crusade. Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them 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, although in 1815 they were returned. They remained in place over the basilica until the early 1980s, when the ongoing damage from growing air pollution forced their replacement with an exact replica. Since then, the original quadriga has been on display just inside the basilica.


External links

* [ Byzantium 1200 | Hippodrome Boxes] shows the location of the horses until 1204.

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