The Mosaics of San Marco : THE MOSAIC DECORATION OF SAN MARCO, VENICE<i> by Otto Demus, edited by Herbert L. Kessler(The University of Chicago Press: $60, cloth; $25, paper; illustrated)</i>

Universally recognized as a treasure house of medieval art, with its splendid mosaics and walls embellished with stone, glass and gold, the Venetian church of San Marco inspired the distinguished art historian Otto Demus to devote a good part of his professional life to chronicle the evolution of this masterwork from the 11th- to the 15th Century. His four-volume work, “The Mosaics of San Marco in Venice,” won the Mitchell Prize for the History of Art in 1985. In addition, he directed the church’s restoration under the auspices of Dumbarton Oaks.

The makers of the mosaics, their dates and their significance are fully documented here. Most fascinating, however, is the author’s thesis that the mosaics’ iconography lives on in later Venetian paintings: “There can be no doubt . . . that the mosaics of San Marco thus had a certain share in preparing the ground for that kind of painterly painting one might specifically call European. The ‘afterlife’ of San Marco was, thus, after all, a very real life.”

And indeed the mosaics are vividly brought to life in this volume with its elegant, detailed, color reproductions. Herbert L. Kessler has masterfully tapered the larger work for a popular audience.