December12

Brought to Venice from Constantinople after the fourth crusade, the bronze horses were installed on the facade of the Basilica San Marco in 1254. In 1364, the Italian poet Petrarch wrote in a letter to Pietro da Bologna:

‘… i quattro dorati cavalli di bronzo, a cui l’antico ignoto artefice dette tal sembianza di vita cha quasi ti pare udirne [233] lo scalpitare e il nitrito’

‘… the four gilded bronze horses, to whom the unknown ancient sculptor gave such a sense of life that you almost believe that you can here them stamping and snorting.’

Petrarca, Le Seniles, IV:III

The horses stayed put until 1797, when they were plundered by Napoleon and taken to Paris. A small triumphal arch was built to house them in the Place du Carrousel in front of the Louvre. But in 1815, they were returned to Venice and their place on the Basilica. In the 1980s it was decided to move them inside to protect them from the elements and they were replaced by copies. The originals are still on view upstairs in the basilica.