The Horses of Saint Mark is a set of gilded bronze statues of four horses that were originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga, a four horse-carriage used in chariot races. The horses date from classical antiquity, and are attributed to Lysippos, an extremely famous Classical Greek sculptor who specialized in bronze. Despite their classical origins, they are most famous for their place on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
The Horses of Saint Mark have had an interesting history of looting and theft. In the 5th century CE, the statutes were transported from the island of Chios to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius II. They were placed on the top of the famous Hippodrome of Constantinople, and stayed there until 1204 when they were looted by the Venetians during the sack of the city in the Fourth Crusade. They were then installed on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica, and remained there until Napoleon’s conquest of Venice in 1797. The emperor forcibly removed the horses from the basilica and transported them to Paris where they briefly became part of the quadriga monument on the top of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. The horses were returned to Venice in 1815 shortly after Napoleon’s defeat in Waterloo and remain there to this day.
Due to conservation purposes, the original Horses of Saint Mark were taken off the basilica’s facade in the 1980s and replaced with replicas. They are now on display in the museum inside the basilica. They are a wonderful instance of the use war loot throughout history, and a testament to people’s fascination with the past.
François Flameng (1856-1923). Napoleon and his staff reviewing the mounted chasseurs of the Imperial Guard. Oil on canvas, 91.5 x 151.7 cm. Bonhams, San Francisco; 15-11-2006, lot 4144 ($85,000 hammer).
At the hour of twelve the grand review, in the Place Carousel, commenced, being composed of all the troops then in Paris, the emperor having passed through every rank, the regiments formed themselves into square batallions, and Napoleon harangued them…
- W.H. Ireland. The Napoleon anecdotes. Vol. III. 1823.