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Saint Mark's Church

Saint Mark's Church, Venice, named after the tutelary saint of Venice. The original Romanesque basilical church, built in the 9th cent. as a shrine for the saint's bones, was destroyed by fire in 967. Byzantine architects assisted in its reconstruction, the main fabric being completed c.1071. In the 12th and following centuries through alterations and elaborate adornments it became a splendid Byzantine monument, reflecting Venice's preeminent position in trade with the East. In the 14th cent. the facade received Gothic additions. The present structure is thus a mixture of Byzantine and Gothic and incorporates materials taken from temples and Eastern ruins. Its plan is a Greek cross, with a dome over the center and one over each arm of the cross. Across the west front extends a vestibule from which five portals open upon the Piazza San Marco. The facade is incrusted with marble slabs and mosaics. In the interior the lower walls are sheathed with veined marbles. The vaults and domes are completely covered with beautifully colored mosaics spread on a golden background. These varied materials combine into a unique harmonic architectural polychromy, effectively illuminated by a hazy light admitted through narrow openings in the domes. The so-called Four Horses of St. Mark's, in gilded bronze, stand upon the gallery over the main entrance. The only existing specimen of an ancient quadriga, or monumental four-horse chariot, they may have originally adorned a Roman triumphal arch. They were found in Constantinople and in 1204 were brought to Venice. In 1797, Napoleon carried them off to Paris but in 1815 the horses were returned to Venice. In recent years they have suffered from the effects of atmospheric pollution.

See G. Musolino, The Basilica of St. Mark in Venice (1956); O. Demus, The Mosaics of San Marco in Venice (4 vol., 1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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