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Basilica di San Marco: Treasury

Byzantine beauty

10th-century icon of St Michael, St Mark's

Entrance through St Mark's Basilica.

The capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, and its subsequent pillage and sack, was a tragic loss of art and beauty to civilization. With equal equanimity the rough Franks smashed and melted down the treasures of the ancient Greeks and Romans as well as the Byzantines; the Venetians at least had an eye for beauty as well as for the main chance.

They salvaged what they could and shipped it home to the greater glory of their Messer San Marco. Five hundred years later Napoleon and his henchmen helped themselves to most it – and melted it down for 55 ingots of gold and silver.

All in all, this lends a sense of wonder to the small collection that has managed to survive in St Mark’s Baptistry: in fact, it's the world's finest surviving collection of Byzantine gold, silver and enameling.

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Veneto-Byzantine Art: the ‘Proto-Renaissance’

Museums and Galleries

Piazza San Marco

Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Images by Dimitris Kamaras, Testus, Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, GNU Free Document