Visiting St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice.
If you go to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice – or rather if you go and have the patience or dogged energy to join a queue that snakes across the square, inching forward in the relentless sun, and don’t decide that a cappuccino in the shade would be a preferable option, then summon the last of your waning determination and head up the precipitous flight of stairs on your right just inside the main door. In a city so crowded, so clogged with tourists, it is astonishing that all you have to do is hold on tight to the handrail, not look down, and before long there you are virtually alone in a deep balcony over looking the nave, with the mosaicked gold domes of the church ascending in front of you, one after the other, each implausibly, superbly decorated, like a fantasy film set allowed to go musty and stale in the back of the studios. Apparently, they turn the lights on from time to time which must be a wholly different thing, but in the natural gloom, toned down by centuries of accumulated dust, they have the dull glow of treasure found in a tomb.
Byzantine mosaic fragments
You are not allowed to take photos of the interior mosaics, but carry on a little bit along the balcony and around the corner, past the actual bronze stallions looted from Constantinople at the beginning of the 13th century (we stood there, alone for whole minutes, we marvelled and pondered and still we were quite alone) and there is a small museum of Byzantine mosaic fragments from the church which is truly marvellous. It’s not often you can get up close and personal with 14th century mosaics as works from that period tend to be church decorations and therefore high up on ceilings, so these mosaic faces, fragments of clothing and Biblical scenes, were particularly exciting.
There were plenty of the usual bearded suspects:
Wonderful melted faces:
An obligatory gory scene:
Plus an array of saints, kings and warriors:
A happy hour or so was spent with these mosaics – notice how stone are smalti are mixed, how the curves of flesh and drapes of cloth are created with depth and shadow and appreciate these gorgeous flowing tresses: