Monday, April 26, 2010

THE HORSES OF ST. MARK'S Reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Charles Freeman's lively history of the world's most famous statues and their turbulent movements, The Horses of St. Mark's, is reviewed in 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.”

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