Brophy, Robert H.

title.none: Jacoff, Horses of San Marco

identifier.other: baj9928.9507.002 95.07.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Brophy, Robert H., University of Syracuse

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Jacoff, Michael. The Horses of San Marco and the Quadriga of the Lord. Princeton University Press, 1994. Pp. xvii + 164; 64 Illustrations. $35.00. ISBN: ISBN 069103270X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.07.02

Jacoff, Michael. The Horses of San Marco and the Quadriga of the Lord. Princeton University Press, 1994. Pp. xvii + 164; 64 Illustrations. $35.00. ISBN: ISBN 069103270X.

Reviewed by:

Brophy, Robert H.
University of Syracuse

Michael Jacoff of Brooklyn College, CUNY, offers a new and very interesting interpretation of the four life-size bronze horses on the west facade of the Temple of San Marco in Venice. They are the quadriga or four-horse chariot of the Lord, which drew him in triumph round the world. In other words, they are the four Evangelists, authors of) the "vehicle" by which Christ triumphed over the known world. They specifically honor most Venice's patron saint, the namesake of the cathedral, St. Mark.

We already know the horses are late Roman Imperial copies of a Hellenistic Greek triumphal team of four pulling a quadriga (Latin) or tethrippos (Greek), a four-horse chariot, in Olympic or other athletic games. A minority view holds that they were actually Greek originals: certainly the life models were four real Greek horses of 300-200 BC. We also know they are were erected or re-erected in Byzantium in the late Roman Empire, probably under Theodosius II (408-450) and stayed there 800 years til carted off by the Venetians among the Fourth Crusaders who sacked Constantinople, as a sign of Venice's triumph over this capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 1204 (pp. 2-6, 51-52, 80, 91-92). But now the full meaning of the horses in context is clear, Jacoff says. They mark Venice's proud achievement, humbling a proud, heretical, arrogant Empire, and eliminating a major rival and monopoly power in the spice and other Eastern trades, and gaining many colonies in the Aegean and on the Mediterranean shore. They further honor Venice's patron saint, guarantor of her victory and greatness, San Marco, the second Evangelist and "second horse" of the team of four of the Lord's quadriga.

Jacoff makes a clear, detailed and, I think, convincing argument, using a variety of sources. Doge Enrico Dandolo played a leading role in turning the Crusade to conquering the Byzantine capital. He acquired the title "Leader of the Quarter or Half of the Whole Roman Empire," Dominator quarte et dimidie partis totius imperii Romanie (sic--for Romani). He and his his successors rebuilt the facade of St. Mark's Cathedral between the 1220s and 1275. The horses were added to the west facade then. Jacoff's introduction explains all this: chapter 1 discusses the quadriga domini as "A Christian Metaphor and Its Transmutations," giving the Biblical background, the vehicles in Ezekiel 1 and 10, and shows the Medieval interpretations of that image, literary and visual, for the 4 Evangelists as "4 horses of the Lord" who galloped over the known world with his message. Jacoff traces the image from Jerome's letter of 394 AD to Dante, Purgatorio Canto 29 (pp. 12-20, Excursus III, pp. 123-136). Jerome says: "Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord's team of four," as Jacoff, p. 14 quotes the translation of W.H. Fremantle et al., St. Jerome: Letters and Selected Works (NY 1893), 101. St. Augustine's "Consensus" of the Evangelists 10 uses the same image. Isidore of Seville's Etymologies defines quadriga and states that quadrigas "in sacred Scriptures are ... the four Evangelists or the [four] Gospels, or ... four principal virtues. Song of Songs 6:11 in the Vulgate says: "my soul troubled me because of the quadrigas of Aminadab" (p. 16). Bede (p. 18) first explained the quadrigas of Aminadab as a type of the preaching of the Gospel, "rightly compared, 'not to chariots in general, but to quadrigas, because it was commended by the authority .. of four authors, yet both the[ir] mind and ... hand ... were set to writing by the single spirit of God through Jesus Christ; in the same manner ... quadrigas... [run] by the united speed of four horses, yet ... are governed by ... a single charioteer." The 9th-century commentary of Haimo of Auxerre says "the four Gospels are like the four of the quadriga of the New Testament, which Christ himself, as charioteer, controls" (p. 15-16). These commentators all knew a genuine quadriga, though later 12th-century commentators like Honorius Augustodunus picture the quadriga of Christ as a four-wheeled (italics mine) chariot--not four-horse--with the Gospels the 4 wheels and the Apostles the horses (pp. 18-19). Elsewhere Honorius and other 12th-13th century authors show they knew quadrigas had four horses.

Chapter II, "The Horses of San Marco as the Lord's Quadriga," pp. 21-41, show the Venetians knew what a real quadriga was: 4-horse, 2-wheeled chariot, and envisioned the quadriga of the Lord that way. From St. Peter Damian (1006-1071) and his 3 sermons in Venice on the quadriga of Aminadab and St. Mark (1006-1071),to the 14th-century chronicle explaining how Mark's body and other relics came to Venice (supposedly in 100 AD).

The 4 horses of San Marco originally stood on the west facade, near the 4 Evangelists and Christ carved in relief on the south facade. They too may have been gilded like the horses (pp. 32-35). If so, the 9 gilded statues gleaming in the sun would have made any viewer think of the 4 gospels and 4 horses of the Lord. The position of the pairs of evangelists, Christ in the center and a little higher than the pairs, Luke and Mark, John and Matthew, backs to Christ, seems odd at first, but puts Mark on Christ's right hand, the position of honor--from Christ's point of view. This Jacoff rightly says was the proper, intended position for Venice's patron saint in his own cathedral of San Marco. Jacoff argues for an installation of the entire facade "in the 1230s or early 1240s," though admitting this is not final (p41, with pp. 6-8, 39-40).

Chapters III and IV discuss Mark as one of the four in the Lord's quadriga, in narratives and in depictions at Venice and elsewhere. Jacoff very fairly considers all contrary evidence, such as sketches of the cathedral which do not show the horses or evangelists where he envisioned them in the 13th century restoration. The interior mosaics of the the cathedral show the same concerns with the spread of the gospel and Mark's great role in it, Jacoff demonstrates. He explains the early 15th century "cavalier dismemberment" of the unified facade by removal of the reliefs of Christ and the 4 evangelists, as a probable result of the fire of 1419, and introduction of windows to give far more interior light in the restoration of 1419-39 (pp. 48-50) and Chapter VI, The Problem of the Placement of the Horses at San Marco, pp. 84-108. Chapter V, "the Horses of San Marco and the Rhetoric of Reused Roman Statuary in Medieval Italy," pp. 62-83, discusses the 4 as one example of Medieval use of Roman Statuary to mark a contemporary triumph (as over Constantinople in 1204). These triumphal, "Imperial" works were often gilded, to reinforce the point that the Italian city erecting them was a worthy successor of Imperial Rome: the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome is one example (pp. 64-65), as is the horseman of Florence, pp. 65-70, mentioned in Dante. Pavia even flaunted this symbolism with a bronze equestrian statue smashed to pieces by the Milanese in 1315 and partly reassembled, repaired, reinstalled and regilded, by the Pavians in 1335 (pp. 63-64).

Jacoff makes a very sound, balanced, convincing case. I must admit I like scholarship like this, paying close attention to "minor" details from miniatures of Venice, or brief historic mentions, that take on great significance when their full meanings are appreciated in context. As his "Conclusion" says (pp. 109-112): the 4 horses "fit well into a group of large-scale freestanding antiquities that conveyed ... political messages ... to commemorate a military victory, to reinforce a sense of common identity, ... to proclaim a tie with ancient Rome. But" only the Horses of San Marco were mounted on the cathedral itself. This is explained by the fact that they literally "embod[y] ... the trope that likened the Evangelists to a team of four horses drawing Christ's chariot" (p. 109), "juxtaposed with nearby reliefs of Christ and the Evangelists." They honored Venice as worthy rival of ancient Rome (and conqueror of the Medieval Roman empire, Byzantium) and Mark as one of the great Four Horses of the Lord, co-equal of the other Evangelists and a bit better, if Jacoff is right, standing "at the right hand of the Lord."

Occasional infelicities or odd phrasings mark Jacoff's English: "contemporary accounts of the sack of Constantinople to which the successful assault gave (sic) way" (p. 3)--"led the way" (?).