Four Horses


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Class Name and Date

Art 230: Ancient Art. Fall 2015

Format Type


Time Period

Classical Period


Issues of Repatriation with Late Classical Greek Art


Gilded bronze


2nd century AD

Great political strife and turmoil can unfortunately lead to the appropriation and relocation of cultural art pieces. War and chaos breed the perfect opportunity for the theft of art, as art becomes the perfect token of victory. Parading the spoils of war has been a custom of victory and defeat practiced for centuries. However with the dawn of modernity these stolen pieces tell a story of their own that adds life to the history that it follows.

With the fall of Constantinople in 1204, the victorious Venetians pillaged and plundered the defeated city. One of the crowning jewels of the collection was the Hippodrome’s four bronze horses. The four horses were dismantled and shipped to their new resting place atop St. Mark’s Basilica as a symbol of triumph. Although they were regarded for their expressive and realistic characteristics, their monumental size and regal stature made them a perfect trophy of war. It seems Napoleon also felt that they proclaimed dominance as he took them from Venice to France to sit upon the Arc de Tromphe du Carrousel in 1797.However only seventeen years later they were returned to their spot to prance above the entrance of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

The four bronze horses were casted from an unusual substance that is very high in cooper.This would have made it a hard material to work with and creates problems in identification of origin and creator. Although difficult the artist does an excellent job of creating powerful expression and three-dimensional motion. In their current location the horses stride along unbridled, symbolically free from restraints.Arranged in pairs they incline their heads’ towards one another and simultaneously lift their legs in motion. They are created with pronounced musculature and perfected portions to give life and power to the horses. These qualities combine to make the gilded bronze horses ideal trophies and guards for St. Mark’s Basilica.


Alunno-Rossetti, V., and Marabelli, M. “Analyses of the Patinas of a Gilded Horse of St Mark's Basilica in Venice: Corrosion Mechanisms and Conservation Problems.” Studies in Conservation 21, no. 4 (1976), 161-170. accessed November 1, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/ stable/ 1505640.

Houpt, Simon. Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., 2006.

Perry, Marilyn. “Saint Mark's Trophies: Legend, Superstition, and Archaeology in Renaissance Venice.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 40 (1977): 27-49. Accessed October 29, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/ 750990.