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Q is for Quadriga

The Triumphal Quadriga are better known as the Four Horses of San Marco. Quadriga is a Latin word for a chariot drawn by four horses, but it can also refer to the horses themselves. While these horses aren't Venetian in origin, they have come to be just as loved in Venice as the famed lion.

quadriga

There are many interesting stories about these "miraculous stallions," as writer Jan Morris calls them, and things we do and do not know. We do know that the Venetians stole them from Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade and brought them to Venice

Not known: where they were made. Were they created in ancient Greece or in ancient Rome? It's believed that before they were taken to Constantinople, they resided on Trajan's Arch in Rome, but it's possible that the Romans looted them from Greece.

Carbon dating done recently indicates that they were created around the beginning of the 2nd century BC, which means that they were already 1,400 years old when they moved to Venice over eight hundred years ago.

They are often called the bronze horses or the golden or gilded horses, but in fact, they are made mostly of copper (between 96.67 and 98.35% copper, according to the Basilica website). Each horse weighs 1,700 pounds.

ReginaldBarratt 1907

During their first 50 years in Venice, they were displayed at the Arsenale, but then they moved to the Basilica di San Marco and were mounted above the main entrance. After these pagan horses went to church, they became an allegory for the power of the four evangelists as well as a symbol of the power of the Republic.

But then in 1797, the Venetian Republic fell to Napoleon, who stole much art work from Venice, and the horses were taken to Paris for 15 years or so. After the defeat of Napoleon, they were returned to Venice and the basilica. This painting below (Return of the Horses) by Venetian artist Vincenzo Chilone was completed in 1815, the year that they returned home.

return of the horses

But their traveling days weren't over yet. During both World Wars, the horses were removed for safe-keeping. During WWI, they were sent to Rome, and during WWII, they were stored in a warehouse on the mainland. The poignant photo below shows them leaving Venice in 1942.

And then in 1982, after so many centuries outside, they were moved inside the church to protect them from the effects of pollution and the elements. The horses that we see outside today are boring and lifeless copies. To see the real horses, you must pay a few Euros to go upstairs to the Museo di San Marco and it's well worth it. They are magical creatures, and they love visitors. :)

horses 1942

From Jan Morris' "A Venetian Bestiary"~

“So subtle, elegant and powerful were their forms, so true to life and yet so full of suggestion, that like all great works of art they generated a magnetism far beyond their substance.

The Venetians recognized their divine quality from the start, and so the Golden Horses came to the lagoon…they were the ultimate loot, and they were placed on the ultimate exhibition shelf above the doorway of the Basilica di San Marco, looking out across the Piazza. It is probable that when they hauled their chariot the outer two horses tossed their heads outwards, the central two inwards. The Venetians mounted them instead in separated pairs, each pair of animals inclining their heads towards each other, and this perhaps gave them a gentler look, less tempestuous but more compassionate, like four friends.”

Beloved friends they became indeed to the citizens of Venice, and symbols to every foreigner of the Republic’s unshakable fortitude. They were the most reassuring of all the devices that gave such all-confident splendor to the city…”

horse


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Comments (11)

Thank you for this interesting piece of history.
Thank you for taking part in this fun meme.
Wil, ABC Team.

eQuine majesty!
ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Leslie:

Fascinating history. Thanks for sharing! And have a great week,

Leslie
abcw team

This was a fascinating post. Very interesting and well written and I enjoyed the photography and art. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

Ann:

Oh these are magnificent, we were in Venice, wish I had seen these. Thanks for all the background of their travels through Europe.
Ann

In 1980, my son and I stood under what I didn't realise until many years later, were the real horses. I wish I had paid more attention!

Thank you for this lucid posting!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, for the three times that I have visited Venice, I have never seen them. :( I hope I can see them one day.

I really loved seeing the illustrations and old photos of them coming and going. I think that's the first time I've seen a vehicle in San Marco Square. Your last close-up photo is beautiful. I really love the name "miraculous stallions".

Awesome take for this week's Q. Thanks so much for this wonderful and informative post. Have a great week.

Just beautiful!

Come and take my Dementia Quiz
Rose, ABC Wednesday Team

sandrac:

What a fascinating post, Annie. I hadn't realized the original horses (now safely tucked inside San Marco) are more than 2,000 years old. Remarkable!

They really are beautiful -- as are these photos (I especially love the 1942 photo of the horses riding on wagons!)

Annie,
Great article. I'm about to do a post on the horses too. Perfect timing.
Daniel

Fascinating and informative Annie! I love visiting the horses. I think you are right, they do like company!

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