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Horses of Saint Mark

File:San Marco horses.jpg
The replica 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 4th century BC Greek sculptor Lysippos, although this has not been widely accepted. Although called bronze, analysis suggests that as they are at least 96.67% copper,[1] they should be seen as an impure copper rather than bronze. The high tin content increased the casting temperature to 1200-1300oC.[2] The high purity copper was chosen to give a more satisfactory mercury gilding.[3] Given current knowledge of ancient technology, this method of manufacture suggests a Roman rather than a Hellenistic origin.[4]


It is certain that the horses, along with the quadriga with which they were depicted were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople; they may be the "four gilt horses that stand above the Hippodrome" that "came from the island of Chios under Theodosios II" mentioned in the eighth- or early ninth-century Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai.[5] 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. What happened to the quadriga after the Fourth Crusade is unknown. Doge Enrico Dandolo sent the horses 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 together with a quadriga, although in 1815 the horses 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 exact replicas. Since then, the originals have been on display just inside the basilica.


  1. Anon 1979 The Horses of San Marco Thames and Hudson an English translation of a 1977 Venetian city government publication p191
  2. Anon 1979, p199
  3. Anon 1979, p185
  4. Anon 1979, Chapter: W.A.Oddy et al. The gilding of bronze statues in the Greek and Roman world
  5. Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai, ch. 84.Th

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