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The Horses Of St Marks: A Story of Triumph in Byzantium, Paris and Venice Hardcover – 6 May 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (6 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316861189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316861182
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 3.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,931,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Lucid and engaging (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Freeman, in the best tradition of Herodotus, provides numerous engaging digressions (BBC HISTORY)

Book Description

A mini epic - how a particular set of artistic treasures from the classical world, the horses of St Mark's Basilica, interacted with two thousand years of European history.

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Inside This Book

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First Sentence
TOWARDS THE END OF JULY 1798 AN EXTRAORDINARY procession wound its way through the streets of Paris towards the Champ de Mars, the military parade ground which had been adopted by the Parisians of revolutionary France as the site of major festivals. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
The famous horses of St Mark's in Venice, for so many centuries highly visible on their platform above the piazza, have had a fascinating history, serving at various moments as artistic wonders, as plunder, or as symbols of triumph and unity. Charles Freeman traces their history through the years, serving up along the way an enjoyable potted history of Constantinople and Venice, Renaissance art and sculpture, philosophy and aesthetics.

The horses' origins are shrouded in mystery, and scholars, philosophers and aesthetes have debated for centuries over whether the horses were Greek or Roman, whether they were intended to symbolise a victory in the Olympic Games or to adorn a triumphal arch in Rome. The horses were moved from Rome to Constantinople in the 4th century AD to celebrate the founding of that city by Constantine. They were stolen from Constantinople in the 13th century by the Venetians during the city's sacking during the Fourth Crusade. Centuries later they were plundered again, this time by Napoleon, and brought to Paris as a symbol of victory. Repatriated after the final fall of Napoleon in 1815, they were returned to their home in Venice, where they have remained to this day - although modern pollution and its corrosive effects on the copper horses have meant they are now no longer in pride of place above the arch of St Mark's but undercover inside.

The horses have come to be more than simply copper statues - over the years they have become caught up in political currents, in revolutions, political and philosophical debates, and have served as cultural icons and symbols of national pride.
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Format: Paperback
The Horses of St. Mark's by Charles Freeman is probably too long for its conceit of solving the mystery of the provenance of the four horses that are now crowded unceremoniously beneath the eaves inside St. Mark's in Venice (with copies standing on the outside Loggia). The evidence for the author's conclusion could have been marshaled in a few pages, and the conclusion in a couple of paragraphs.
Indeed, the reader mostly forgets the question of where the horses came from before they were plundered from Constantinople and brought to Venice in the much more interesting story told of where they have been and what they have witnessed since then. The strength of the book is how it brings to life the history of the rise and fall of the Venetian Republic, its conquering by Napoleon, and its tenuous hold against the sea. I was particularly happy to learn something about specific Venetian artists, and to be able to put them into their historical context. I had seen several of Canova's works (such as his sculpture of Napoleon's sister, Pauline) but now I know he was not only an artist, but a man active in regard to safeguarding Italian art treasures, and diplomatically astute enough to be effective.
On the whole, I think the horses were an awkward choice to pull this particular chariot of information, although both the horses and the chariot are magnificent.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is clearly the product of a real love of the subject and much detailed research. I found Mr Freeman's prose a little trying, but that is undoubtedly my failing. I liked the way he detailed his thought process and reasoned the conclusion he makes. It is possibly a good idea to read "The Horses of San Marco" ed. Guido Perocco [Thames & Hudson 1979] which is a collection of scholarly contributions which prepare you for the later research detailed by Mr Freeman
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Format: Paperback
Charles Freeman is a British academic who specialises in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. He is the author of several books including AD 381: Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State.

His book about the horses of St Mark's is based on ancient literary sources and archaeological objects - primarily, of course, the four horses of St Mark's - as well as modern scholarship.

The text is divided into 19 chapters which cover different places and different topics. At the end of the book we find a brief bibliographical note and an index. Unfortunately, there are no notes with references.

The illustrations are numerous and well-chosen, but they are all in black-and-white, although the original is often in colour. Sometimes the original is a large painting which has been reduced so much that it is difficult or impossible to see the detail which Freeman wants the reader to see.

The porphyry statue of the four emperors (the Tetrarchs) and the porphyry head of a Roman emperor, probably Justinian, are mentioned on pp. 88-89 and 93-94. Like the horses, these items were captured by the Venetians during the fourth crusade in Constantinople in 1204. Like the horses, they are still preserved in Venice, but there are no pictures of them in the book.

The horses are cast in copper, not bronze. They are slightly larger than real horses, and they are designed to be seen from below. When you read the book, you will find out why these facts are very important.

The purpose of the book is to follow the trail of the horses.
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