Venice and the East: The Facade of San Marco

In its early years Venice was the gateway between the European West and Byzantine and Islamic East allowing for a multitude of people, customs, and goods to pass through its lagoons. These cultures and their riches played heavily in the formation of Venice as a city and as a result Venetian culture can not be solely identified with any one civilization but instead an assimilation and reinterpretation of them all. The central building in Venice is San Marco. Serving as the religious, political and social monument in the city all of Venice’s glory is displayed on the façade. Starting as the home to the remains of St. Marco, the basilica grew in significance and opulence throughout Venice’s history. As Ruskin says, the façade is aesthetically beautiful, “in its proportions, and as a piece or rich and fantastic colour, as lovely a dream as ever filled human imagination,”[1] but it is also a symbol of the connections and wealth the East has brought to the city. With the decorative program coinciding with the fall of Constantinople, Venice was making an artistic assertion that Venice was now the new center of the empire. Using spoils and styles from Byzantium and the Islamic East and placing them on the façade, presenting them to the world, the relationship between the different cultures is emphasized for all. The arts of the East heighten the beauty of the façade just as the relationship with the East has added to Venice’s glory. Using the various artistic assimilations Venetians are making a statement that they both are part of the East and are great because of the relationship.

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[1] Ettore Vio. St. Mark’s: The Art and Architecture of Church and State in Venice. New York:Riverside Book Company, Inc., 2003. p 150.

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