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June 4, 2011

More on the History of the Four Horses of the Basilica San Marco, Venice (Part II)

Eugène Delacroix, The Taking of Constantinople by the Crusaders (April 12, 1204),
Salon of 1841, Entered the Musée du Louvre in 1885

by Judge Arthur Tompkins, ARCA Lecturer

The Fourth Crusade in its Venetian transports arrived off Constantinople in late June 1203. The siege occupied many months, but finally the ‘Latins’ entered the city on April 13, 1204.

As Wilhelm Treue comments in his book, Art Plunder: The Fate of Works of Art in War and Unrest (John Day, New York, 1961):
“Old men, women, and children, carrying crosses and holy images, went to meet the victorious troops, but there was no restraining their lust for blood and plunder; they were Crusaders no longer; they were plunderers such as Europe had never known till that day. Whoever stood in their way was killed..... the forty richest cities on earth could not equal the riches which Byzantium now lost to her conquerors. All this was now distributed throughout Europe and added unimaginable riches to the legacy of antiquity and the medieval Eastern Empire. Venice benefited chiefly, but the whole of Europe as far as the British Isles and Scandinavia, wherever relations and friends of any crusader were to be found, shared in this amazing windfall. Every Crusader of any rank found himself in possession of a fortune on April 13, 1204. ... An eclipse, taken to be a sign on the wrath of God, put an end to the looting on April 16.”
Speros Vryonis in Byzantium and Europe (Harcourt Brace, 1967) gives a vivid account of the sack of Constantinople by the Frankish and Venetian Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade, and comments:
The estrangement of East and West, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Crusading movement thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.
Thus occurred uncontrolled looting of what was then the grandest and richest city in Europe, the repository of many centuries of art and culture.

The Tetrarchs, Venice
Before turning to consider the travels of the Four Horses, they were of course not the only things taken from that city. Also ending up in Venice were the Tetrarchs, built into a corner of the Basilica of San Marco, adjacent to the Porta della Carta.

In addition, Francis Henry Taylor notes in his 1948 book, The Taste of Angels, that the marble facing and incrustation was prised off the exterior of Hagia Sophia and used as ballast in the Venetian ships before being used to continue the decoration of the basilica.

Overall, the looting was so widespread, Fernando Báez writes in his book, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern Day Iraq (Atlas & Co, 2008):
“ ... that almost all the churches of Europe came to have treasure or relics from Constantinople. According to the historian Steven Runciman, ‘the sack of Constantinople has not parallel in history ... There was never a greater crime against humanity than the Fourth Crusade.”