Following the Treaty of Vienna, after an exile of eighteen years, the bronze horses of San Marco were returned to Venice from Paris where they had adorned the Arc du Carousel (on which replicas now prance, with behind them a chariot originally intended to contain Napoleon, in the event piloted instead by ‘an allegorical figure’).
In 1815 they were restored to Venice by Francis I of Austria, as the Latin inscription under the archivolt beneath tells. A magnificent festa was organised when they were raised to their old position in the presence of the Austrian. The Piazza was bright with gorgeous decorations; a superb loggia erected for the Imperial family; an amphitheatre for the Venetian nobility. (The Austrian government gave permission to all whose names were in the Golden Book to assume the title of Count.) Nothing was wanting – but an audience. The amphitheatre was empty; a few loungers idled about the square. Cannons were fired; the bells rang a double peal; the music played; the horses were drawn up – but not a cheer followed them. The Emperor and his suite had the show to themselves.
–Thomas Okey ‘The Story of Venice’ (Dent, Mediaeval Towns series, 1905
This was not to be the end of their peregrinations: during the First World War, the horses, along with Verocchio’s statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, were, for safekeeping, taken to Rome.