Much of the facade of St Mark's Basilica has changed since Venice's medieval heyday, but the four horses on the loggia above the main entrance still dominate the square as they did in the 15th century. They are the only team of four horses to survive from antiquity. Their origin is uncertain - they were probably cast in the 2nd century AD in Greece or Rome - their journey through history has been remarkable. Wherever they have been displayed the horses have been central as both symbols of beauty and power. The first written reference we have to them is in 4th Century Constantinople where they represented the Emperor's divine connection. They were then plundered by the Doge of Venice when he torched the city during the fourth crusade. When Napoleon invaded in 1797 the horses were at the top of his shopping list and on their removal to Paris they were at the front of his imperial triumph. The magnificent beasts have been witnesses, therefore, to some of the most tumultuous events in European history. Reading this highly original book is to see these events through the eyes of one of the great international works of art.
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Charles Freeman is the author of THE CLOSING OF THE WESTERN MIND and EGYPT, GREECE AND ROME and organises guided tours in Venice.From Publishers Weekly:
After Napoleon triumphed over Venice in 1798, he demonstrated his strength by plundering the city-state's greatest treasures, including a set of four Greek or Roman gilded copper horses (their precise origins are not known) adorning St. Mark's loggia and sending them straight to Paris. According to Freeman (A.D. 381), the horses were prime booty, symbolizing wealth, cultural assets, and military prowess. Thus, they were periodically looted by history's victors, going first to Constantinople and then to Venice after its defeat of the declining Byzantine capital in 1204. After Napoleon's fall, Venice recovered the horses from Paris. Despite Freeman's efforts, too much remains unknown about the horses (such as how Constantinople originally obtained them), and the statues become almost peripheral to the narrative of the political and cultural environments of the 13th to 19th centuries. Freeman supposes the horses may have inspired artists such as Paolo Uccello and Dürer, who visited Venice. Most compelling for devout lovers of art and European history, Freeman effectively and ironically juxtaposes the horses' location (atop a church) with the violence that punctuated their role as plundered plunder. B&w photos. (June)
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Book Description Little, Brown & Company. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0316861189. Bookseller Inventory # SKU1005464