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Pala d'Oro

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Title: Pala d'Oro  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Aachen, Westminster Retable, Antependium, Byzantine art
Collection: Byzantine Art, Culture in Venice, Gold Objects, St Mark's Basilica, Visitor Attractions in Venice
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Pala d'Oro

Development and elements of the Pala d’Oro
The central panel of Christ in Majesty

Pala d’Oro (Italian, "Golden Pall" or "Golden Cloth") is the high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship, with both front and rear sides decorated.

Description and history

The altarpiece consists of two parts. The lower part, with enamels illustrating the story of Saint Mark, the doge's portrait, and the Pantocrator group, originated as an antependium commissioned by the doge Ordelafo Faliero from the court craftsmen of Constantinople in 1102. The image of Archangel Michael and the whole upper third are supposed to have been looted by the Crusaders in Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

In 1343, the Doge Andrea Dandolo ordered both parts to be joined within a single Gothic framework featuring as many as 1,927 gems. The pala (from Latin palla, "cloth") was to be covered by Paolo Veneziano's wooden altarpiece and opened to the astonished public during liturgies only. In the 15th century, Veneziano's "exterior" altarpiece was replaced by a wooden panel which remains today, though the Pala is now always open.


  • Bettini, Sergio, "Venice, the Pala d'Oro, and Constantinople", in Buckton, David, et al., The Treasury of San Marco Venice, 1984, Metropolitan Museum of Art, (fully available online or as PDF from the MMA)


  • Romer, John (1997), Byzantium: The Lost Empire; ABTV/Ibis Films/The Learning Channel; 4 episodes; 209 minutes. (In Episode 3 ["Envy of the World"], presenter Romer examines the Pala d'Oro in detail.)

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