Byzantine art made ‘history’: the Pala d’Oro and the Pala Feriale in Dandolo’s Venice
Stefania Gerevini examines the fourteenth-century renewal of the altar area of the basilica of San Marco, Venice, with specific focus on the changes made to the pala d’oro (the majestic Byzantine altarpiece that embellished the altar since the twelfth century), and on the visual interactions between the Byzantine artwork and Paolo Veneziano’s pala feriale, the newly-commissioned painted altarpiece that covered the pala d’oro on non-festive days.
The speaker suggests that the makeover of the high altar of San Marco specifically addressed issues of temporality and historicity. At one level, this artistic renovation transformed the high altar of San Marco generally, and the Byzantine pala d’oro more specifically, into sites of historical remembrance. Commemorating selected moments and actors from the Venetian past, and providing material proof that those events had actually happened, the high altar of San Marco was made to articulate ideas of institutional stability and continuity at times of heightened tensions. At another level, the artistic makeover turned the altar area into a multimedia visual recapitulation of the economy of Christian salvation. Placing the pala d’oro at the heart of a complex eschatological program that couched history in terms of eternity, this campaign also illuminates the dual meaning of Byzantine art in Trecento Venice, as the ‘stuff of history’ and a locus of transcendence.