The mosaics portraying Venice's patron Saint Mark illustrate a point in Venetian history and identity. In 829 two Venetian merchants removed the body of Saint Mark from Alexandria, in what they believed to be the return of their personal saint to his rightful place within the Basilica of San Marco. Immediately artists began to construct and decorate the structure to befit the final resting place of the Evangelist. The original 9th century structure was damaged in a fire, which lead to it being re-worked in the 11-12th centuries.
The newer structure epitomizes Baroque ornamentation and adopted architectural details from cities that the Republic admired, such as Alexandria, and Constantinople. This compilation of styles, and spoila from its conquered cities is worn like a badge of pride on Venice’s most prized church. The mosaics display an air of opulence and divinity depicting Saint Mark's life, miracles, and final journey to Venice.
The Republic of Venice strove to shape its identity as an independent colony through the visualization of a political ideal. Over time, a refined concept of imagery through certain figural portraits appropriated the personification of Venice as the Queen of the Adriatic, with its patron Saint Mark as holy protector. Saint Mark is one of the Evangelists and author of the Gospels. Each of the Evangelists were assigned a symbol to connect, yet individualize them. Saint Mark is symbolized by the symbol of the Lion. Mark in forma lionis, or the form of the lion, is a widely used icon throughout the city of Venice, as well as the exterior and interior of San Marco.
The interior of San Marco is covered with over 6,000 square meters of mosaic ornamentation. The original images that have not been completley re-worked are Byzantine in style, indicating the mosaicists may have been imported from Constantinople or educated in their craft by Byzantines. Mosaics pertaining to Saint Mark are located in numerous locations throught the basilica, including the exterior facade. I will be focusing on those located in the front half of the building, specifically the North portal mosaic, the main apse, and the Zen Chapel. These are the most visible to the public, and help shape their view of their patron.