Insights into signature aspects of the world’s most spectacular places
The Oldest Mosaics in St Mark’s
Location and Profile
The entrance from the narthex into the main body of the church holds the church’s oldest extant mosaics, likely executed by Byzantine artists at the end of the 11th century; most of the church’s mosaics date from the 12th-13th centuries. Since these select mosaics pre-date the construction of the narthex, they were likely originally open to the elements and visible from the plaza.
They reside below a large mosaic of St Mark — dating from the 16th century, it likely replaced an original mosaic depicting Christ Pantocrator — who stands with his arms raised in the hemispherical lunette, looking upward toward the raised hand of God.
The 11th century blue-clad Virgin Mary stands in the center niche, a baby Jesus in her arms, looking directly out at the viewer.
She is flanked by eight apostles, identified by Latin inscriptions with their names. Each stands with head turned in deference toward the Virgin at the center.
Below them, to the sides of the entrance door, are the four evangelists, arranged in canonical order from left to right: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In contrast to the apostles, they stand facing directly forward, a stylistic indicator of their relatively higher status. When combined, the Latin text in the arches above the evangelists’ heads offers visitors the following message, likely indirectly drawing upon Isaiah 52:7-10: “These four watchmen of the church sing a sweet song that resounds throughout the heavens.”
The ideal time to visit
Try to visit from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. During this time, the church turns on all of the interior lights, making for excellent viewing of the mosaics. If you go at any other time of day, the natural light can prove insufficient for seeing the details.
Since the founding of the Venetian Republic in 697, it fought to preserve its status as an independent trading center bridging East and West. Explore St Mark’s Basilica, both a symbol of and justification for the city’s greatness.