From Antiquity to Byzantium to Late Medieval Italy: Hercules on the façade of San Marco
Set close to the northern and southern corners of the west façade of the church of San Marco in Venice, there are two reliefs representing Hercules. Although the presence of the pagan hero on the exterior of a Christian church may seem puzzling at first, the decision to include Hercules in the fabric of the Venetian state church can be approached and interpreted through the medieval understanding of the hero as an exemplum virtutis.
Kouneni demonstrates that the presence of the two Herculean reliefs in such a prominent place goes beyond a Christian interpretation. The reliefs are linked to the city’s image, history and values; allude to a pre-Roman heritage for the Republic, to military conquest, political authority, cultural and religious legacy; and played a crucial role in reflecting Venetian ideologies.