A nativity cycle for the choir screen of San Marco, Venice

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The article offers new evidence concerning a set of sculptures carved in pietra d’Aurisina for the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. The statues represent scenes of the Nativity and Childhood of Christ. Similarities in style, proportions, dimensions and raw material reveal that they belong to a single set. An analysis of stable carbon and oxygen isotopes indicates that several of the statues were carved out of blocks of stone excavated from the same precise site in the Aurisina quarry in the upper Adriatic. The article takes into consideration the entire set, that is both the preserved pieces and those that were presumably designed for the original cycle but are no longer extant. A lectern angel, likewise in pietra d’Aurisina, set into the northern pulpit of San Marco, as well as four angels celebrating the birth of Christ beneath the crossing of the basilica, offer evidence to support the hypothesis that the Nativity cycle was created for the choir screen of San Marco. The screen, along with the northern and southern pulpits, was probably built at the time of Doge Ranieri Zeno (r. 1253–1268). In 1394, the choir screen was taken down and replaced by the current transenna, and the set of sculptures dismantled with it. The present article is a first attempt at piecing the Nativity cycle together and reconstructing its context in San Marco.

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Convivium (Czech Republic)

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