by Alexandra Tuschka
Every visitor to Venice who has ever stood in front of the famous St. Mark's Basilica will notice: But it didn't look like that. He is right. The four horses we see here on the multi-tiered pedestals are actually above the church portal. It represents the only preserved quadriga of antiquity. In 1202, with the Fourth Crusades, it came from Constantinople to Venice.
Although the horses occupy a prominent place, they are placed out of visitors' reach and receding behind the portal. They appear quite inconspicuous in the surroundings of other ornate statues and decorations. Canaletto shows an architectural fantasy in his "Capriccio ". He takes the horses down from their original location and skillfully places them in his painting.
As soon as the horses are placed in the center of the square on four massive pedestals, the onlookers stop to look at the horses up close. The viewer's gaze follows that of the staffage, which gathers here respectfully and interestedly around the quadriga. No longer are the horses just a decorative element, but become an attraction in their own right, giving St. Mark's Basilica a different flair.
The pedestals on which they stand were also decorated with valuable reliefs. Thus Canaletto in his painting enhances the value of this important cultural asset.
Canaletto - Veduta with horses
Oil on canvas, 1743, 108 x 129,5 cm, Royal Collection, London
Canaletto - St. Mark's Square, facing east
Oil on canvas, 1723, 137,8 x 204,4 cm, Thyssen-Bornemysza Collection, Madrid