Ruskin was greatly impressed with the Lily Capitals of St Marks, and he illustrated them in Examples of the Architecture of Venice, 1851, pl. 7, and The Stones of Venice, 1853, pl. IX. He wrote of the Lily Capitals: 'called barbarous by our architects, [they] are without exception the most subtle pieces of composition in broad contour which I have ever met with in architecture'. He was attracted by the way their appearance changed as the light moved across the façade of the building. 'No amount of illustration or eulogium would be enough to make the reader understand the perfect beauty of the thing itself, as the sun steals from the interstice to interstice of its marble veil, and touches with the white lustre of its rays at midday the pointed leaves of its thirsty lilies,' he wrote in The Stones of Venice.
The Lily Capitals, so called because they displayed a stylised lily framed by an open basket-work of pierced marble, were looted from the 6th Century church of St Polyeuktos in Constantinople. They were used to cap the outermost pillars supporting the north and south porticos of the façade of St Mark's.