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Veneto-Byzantine Art: the ‘Proto-Renaissance’

Nativity by Paolo Veneziano, in San Pantalon

Although Byzantium dominated Venice’s first politics and art, the oldest surviving buildings in the Lagoon, the Cathedral and Baptistry at Torcello (rebuilt in 1008) were inspired by forms closer at hand: the Early Christian basilicas of Ravenna, and their ancient Roman antecedents.

The basic plan consisted of a nave and side aisles, with the triumphal arch over the chancel: Murano’s San Donato (1125), San Nicolò dei Mendicoli and the Giudecca’s Sant’Eufemia were built along these lines. But other early churches were designed in the centralized Greek-cross style, such as the 11th-century Santa Fosca, built next to Torcello Cathedral, and the original of Santa Maria Formosa.

The most important example, however, was the first: the Basilica of San Marco, built in the 830s, a copy of Constantinople’s five-domed church of the Apostles – a form kept through all subsequent rebuildings.

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The First City of Modern Europe


A Candle in a Dark Age


The First Crusades and a Constitution

Ancient Altinum

Museo Archeologico Nazionale e Area Archeologica di Altino

Basilica di San Marco: Treasury

Byzantine beauty

Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta

Venice's First Cathedral

Ca' da Mosto

Home of the discoverer of the Cape Verde islands

San Giacometto (San Giacomo di Rialto)

Now the Museo della Musica

San Nicolo dei Mendicoli

The 'Don't Look Now' church

Santa Fosca (Torcello)

Torcello's other church

Santa Maria e San Donato

Murano's Veneto-Byzantine gem

Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Image by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls