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Study On The Basilica Of San Marco History Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 2240 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Basilica of San Marco, originally built in 829 is located in the Piazzo San Marco in Venice next to the Doges palace. The Building has many important features to Venetians and antiquarians in history. The church contains the body of Saint Mark, patron saint of Venice. The building was not built during the Byzantine period, yet it reflects the characteristics because of its domes and rounded arches. Between 976 and 1056, the wealth and population of the Venetians significantly rose and a more modern and grander was needed to honour the venetian saint. The building is known to many as one of the finest examples of the renaissance architecture and art. The Venetians were the leaders of the renaissance, especially byzantine art, which is why the Church is clearly significant to Venetians, for example the Basilica of San Marco was known to them as a museum of relics.

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What one is trying to evaluate is how Basilica of San Marco really was significant, since the building was only meant as a Chapel for the Doge. One must further more consider the myths of Venice in particular the renaissance thinkers and how the Basilica was important to them and what were the myths which attract tourists the Basilica of San Marco. However did Venice create an anti myth when assessing the significance Basilica of San Marco.

To begin with it is a clear that the Basilica of San Marco was important. It was Venice’s heart of the city, spiritually and politically with its role as the Doges church. Venice can be considered as an important expansion state, particularly in the empire of the East, she was already the mainland power in Italy. Many of her significant artefacts which are kept in the Basilica of San Marco came from the East particularly those states which had renaissance value. The Basilica of San Marco architectural structure is strongly influenced by the Byzantine, as well as holding the remains of Saint Mark; thus showing her significance to the West especially with the holy relics of saint mark presenting Venice to be the leaders of the renaissance. The important aspect to consider here about the significance of the Basilica is that it was a Renaissance building, showing a rebirth of art, culture, architected and thinking.

The first point to notice about is that Venice relied on mercantile activities in creating a special perception of the world this is the first this is the reason for the Basilica of San Marco. As early as the 9th century Venice had been trading with the Islamic and Byzantium sectors of the world. The Relics of Saint Mark the patron saint of Venice; came to Venice when two merchants stole them from Alexandria in 828. Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them back to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade .From here they were stored in the Basilica thus proving much significance for the building. Historian Patricia Fortini Brown’s in her book gives an interpretation of the event; “This seminal act inspired the construction of the Doges palace and marked the beginning of the venetian state church”. Brown also mentions the venetian state church in other words meaning the influence of the renaissance on the church . Another point one should mention is that this was of the orders of the Doge (Duke). Thus this already shows the significance and value the Basilica has, in particular the Doges of Venice.

The Doges of Venice identify the Basilica of San Marco to a significant building throughout the history of Venice. The church was originally built between 829 and 832 by Doge Giovanni Particaiaco I one point to recognise here in terms of the importance to the Basilica is that it was at the orders of Doge Giustuniano Partciaco how provided for the chapel in his will. Figure establishes this importance of the Doges Palace in a later period in 1496. Showing a completed Basilica of San Marco still standing in exact form today.”Gentile Bellini’s Procession in the piazza San Marco records an event held each year on 25th april, the feast- day of St Mark. However in terms of the San Marco one can see the great domes, arches and the gothic spires all evident examples of the Renaissance in the late 15th century.

Another significant point one should mention is from the structure of the Basilica of San Marco has been greatly altered throughout Venetian history. However it still holds much of the original building added during the early years of construction. In Early Christian ages, the churches were made from the Basilican centralised plan which was common with the Byzantines. They features domed ceilings. Prentives were used in the corners of buildings to create the join between the buildings and the roof. The roof, would be created from timber and dressed stone for the Walls. The Byzantines developed their own columns, which illustrate heads and animals, or Christian symbols. The altar was also erected on to stone blocks, so it would be more prominent in the Church. This is all evident in the Basilica again supporting the her significance as a renaissance creation.

The enhancements to the Basilica is so magnificent to think how long the original foundations of the Basilica have been in place. Modifications on the original were made on the Basilica of San Marco such as the addition to the vaulted roof which was original an open space. The church stood for a hundred years, until it was replaced with the present church, the Basilica of saint marks. The last major construction for the Basilica began in 1063 under Doge Domenico Contarini and much of what one sees today of the Basilica of San Marco which is here now. The first phase is in the Greek style under the authority of Doges Contarini, Selvo, and Falier. Figure 2 shows the other symbolic and as historian David Roseland states a “more directly symbolic, more overtly political: the winged lion of St Mark. The image of the beast associated with the patron saint of the Republic came to stand for Mark Himself: San Marco di lion”. One can see in Figure 2 a gold winged lion representing significance to the San Marco. There were also a lot more gold and precious gems used throughout the Basilica of San Marco.

One of the most significant items within the Basilica of San Marco was the Tetrarch. This truly identified the significance of the Basilica of San Marco as this was a very significant, influential and valuable item. Donald Macgilluray Nicol describes it as a; “monument for venetian taste for Byzantine art”. The Tetrarch was a statue which was meant to represent tetrarchy is the system of government which the power is split between individuals instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293: a four co-emperor ruling plan. The way it supports and reflects significance on the Basilica of San Marco is it was set to be a reminder of Venice’s power and strength to conquer and overcome enemies.

Another example of the significance of the Basilica of San Marco was the The Horses of Saint Mark. These were added to the San Marco in 1254. They date to Classical Antiquity period and by some accounts they once adorned the Arch of Trajan. The horses were taken Hippodrome of Constantinople along with the many other items now featured in the Basilica. The triumphal quadriga were a set of ancient Greek bronze statues. They are of extreme significance to the Basilica of San Marco which is why they are no longer on public display.

The final point that should be discussed is the interior which features the most magnitude attributes the San Marco offers. This involves the façade round arched doors. Marble columns, bronze doors, central door 3 bas- relief cycles of Romanesque art, and golden mosaics. The church was often considered the church of gold to Venetians “chisesa d’ora”. The mosaics were also make the San Marco significant. The main portal of mosaics that decorated the entrance to St Marks were made even before the narthex was built. Artists Linda and Paul Murray comment on the mosaics in their book The Art of the Renaissance: “the four series of mosaics in the Basilica in which St Mark’s history is recounted are referred to as the birth of the myth of St mark. They represent an event in the process of being formed rather than a sacred story already canonically defined”. They discuss the art of the mosaics and the Reniassance image they create, which is significant to the myth of the San Marco.

Marcel Brion further discusses the girnjguioernguio “Because mosaic technique used a hieratical stylisation of figures, denying perspective and placing forms in a world of that depth or duration. Venetian painting continued long after it had displaced the enamelled glass cube to conform with the same idea, for swearing any tendencies towards realism. For a long time the painters of the middle ages remained blind to the natural beauty of the landscape and placed their figures against abstract golden background or skies starred with gold. They understood the limitations of mosaics but although they were no longer enslaved by it, they made no effort to move out of its purely spiritual world.”

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However one has seen how the Basilica of San Marco is clear prestige of the renaissance of Venice. One must also be aware of the limitations that follow this. As well as a myth there is also an anti myth, in a empire surrounded of greed, imperialist and tyranny, which effect the Basilica. One example of this can be found in Brown’s The Renaissance in Venice where she acquaints one to know that the Venetians were “master counterfeiters of every sort of artefact and skilled at adapting the lucky find to contemporary use.” As one can see this is a tenacious statement to make on renaissance Venice, yet it does strongly support the anti myth that surrounds the Basilica of San Marco. Brown also gives many examples of this; “Many fortuitous acquisitions were incorporated so artfully into the building fabric of San Marco that they look as if they were part of the original design. The elegant gray- veined marble slabs that now line the nave walls were second- hand goods, for example, stripped from the west facade of the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 1204. About half the six hundred or so columns used in San Marco were imported from Greek Lands, and are so well absorbed into the overall scheme that they cannot always be distinguished from medieval copies.” One must consider the

One must also evaluate the architecture John Ruskin was an influential English art critic in the 19th century tries to explain the negative as well as the positive aspects of the renaissance. Ruskin gives definition of what he sees by ‘Gothic’ architecture. He lists the six most important elements as being, in order of importance: savageness, changefulness, naturalism, grotesqueness, rigidity, redundance. The Gothic architecture was a sign of ignorance and greed. The interior should also be considered on assessing the significance of the Basilica of San Marco.

The paintings were significant, especially those created by Doge Giovanni Bellini who came from a family of artists, the Basilica of San Marco contains a collection of paintings the paintings. Historians Peter and Linda Murry explain in the art of the renaissance supporting the Doge “Sensuous and colouristic style which we associate with Venice and which was, in fact, created by him and handed down to him the great painters of the sixteenth century”. Here what one can see is that the paintings were clearly significant however what is being suggested is that in many cases it was Venice which took the credibility for the great paintings not the painters. An important aspect to consider when evaluating the significance of the Basilica of San Marco, the Doges church.

To conclude one can see that the Basilica of San Marco was very significant. It was significant with its relics from the East such as the tetrarchs, mosaics, the horses of St Marks, and more significantly for the having the body of saint mark. This represented a strong sense of prestige and is the focus for the renaissance. Furthermore the tetrarch one of the most valuable figures in the Basilica creates moral and confidence for the Venetians, which is clear in the way her empire has developed overseas. As mentioned it was evident the wealth of the building particular mention to the Pala D’ora with the sumptuous gold altarpiece encrusted with jewel- like enamels and precious gems it represented the most extravagant Doges chapel. Yet Brown argues that the Venetians were counterfeiters and Ruskin gave a very detailed approach to the study of the San Marco stated broadly in his book what is the gothic style represents. However the Basilica is clearly a very significant building in Venice and in Europe as the leaders of the renaissance.


Figure 1. Romanelli.G, Venice: Art And Architecture (Cambridge, Cambridge publishing management, 2005)

Figure 2.

Photograph of the winged lion on the Basilica of San Marco: http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-42938689/stock-photo-the-venetian-lion-on-a-cathedral-building-on-san-marco-square-Venice-italy.html Accessed:09/12/2010


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