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Venice 2014

North Portal Mosaic

Basilica di San Marco; mosaic detail over far left portal

North portal mosaic, the Translation of the Relics

“The desire to put forward a carefully contrived and idealized image of Venice and do it in the most public of places – a place moreover, that carried the full authority of both church and state – was among the primary forces that shaped the content and organization of the program.” (Jacoff, 113).[1]

The west façade of the Basilica is where visitors enter through one of five portals, or doorways.  Mosaics located in the lunettes above each portal depict the journey of Saint Mark's body from his tomb at Alexandria to the Basilica of San Marco.  Because of their location on the facade of the basilica, the mosaics have had to withstand the trials of time and weather, and have been restored several times over the years.  Constant restoration can sometimes distort the original design or message, or change it altogether.  

The only portal mosaic that retains its 12th-13th century composition is the far left mosaic over the North portal.  In this image, also heavily restored, the body of Saint Mark is carried through the main portal of San Marco.  This highly celebrated event is presided over by the Doge and the people of Venice who gesture to Mark as a proud presentation of their patron.  

The basilica is shown in the mosaic as it would have appeared in the 13th century, not the original 9th century building Saint Mark entered.  The four Bronze Horses are seen on the facade above the porch, and it is likely these additions were added during restoration in the 13th century following the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

The scene illustrates the body of Saint Mark entering the basilica presided over by the Doge Domenico Contarini, and the proud citizens of Venice.  The body is carried by two bishops followed closely by the Doge on the right.  The surrounding people are dressed in their finest for the event, and appear to gesture to the saint as if they are presenting him to the viewer.

The preceding mosiacs, reading right to left, are now 19th century versions of Saint Mark's journey to Venice.  The merchants Tribunus and Rusticus who take the saint's body from his tomb in Alexandria, cover his body with pork to repel the guards, place him on their ship, and arrive in Venice, where he is venerated. Though these are more modern reproductions, they still tell the story, and are the fist mosaics viewers see when entering the basilica.

[1] Jacoff, Michael. Fashioning a Façade: The Construction of Venetian Identity on the Exterior of San Marco. In San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice. Ed. Robert S. Nelson. Washington D.C. Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Symposia and Colloquia, 2010

North Portal Mosaic