St Mark’s Basilica in Venice is renowned throughout the world for its dazzling golden mosaics, which cover an incredible 8000 square metres across walls, vaults and domes. However, after painstaking restoration that began in 2012 some of those precious tiles have returned to their original glistering splendour. The mosaics in question are situated on the dome in the basilica’s narthex – the lobby of the church – directly opposite the main altar. The work has focused on mosaics dating to between 1094, the year the basilica was consecrated, and the early sixteenth century. The earlier works were probably created by Greek mosaicists, while the later ones were more likely by local artisans.
Due to structural problems, with the mosaics running the risk of detaching from the wall, urgent restoration work was deemed necessary. Under the auspices of the Procuratoria of St Mark’s, restorers set about consolidating the precarious mosaics before getting on with the meticulous cleaning. Sadly, one of the restorers, Giambattista Miani, died (of natural causes) whilst working on the mosaics and he was remembered in the Patriarch of Venice’s service given to bless the completed mosaics.
The restored mosaics depict the Madonna and Child, the four evangelists, eight apostles and St Mark himself – here dressed in pontifical robes. Situated in the narthex, they are the first images seen when entering the basilica and it is hardly surprising that the patron saint of the city should take prime position. Of course, what is purportedly St Mark’s body is contained in the basilica’s crypt: legend has it that it was smuggled out of Alexandria by Venetian merchants in 828. It was then that he became Venice’s patron saint and construction on the basilica began.
At a press conference, regional councillor Carlo Alberto Tesserin stated that the work – carried out by Venetian experts – had rendered the mosaics possibly even more beautiful than they originally were. Further restoration work on the world’s most famous gold mosaics will continue.