The Great Schools, Venice Art Treasures

Starting from the second half of 1200 and until 1500, in Venice were formed lay fraternities of citizens who gathered in so called Scuole. Some of these associated artisans and merchants of different professions, the Scuole di Arti e Mestieri, others, called Scuole Grandi, were government agencies said of devotion, founded in the name of a Patron Saint.

The purpose of the Scuole di Arti e Mestieri was the mutual support between people in the same profession, in order to protect economic activities by creating a safety net of mutual help. The Grandi Scuole, instead, had rather a more Christian solidarity function, including care for the sick and the needy; they were associations dedicated to charity, but were also very rich because associated mainly patricians.

The Great Schools in the history of Venice and the Serenissima were seven: San Teodoro (established in 1258,) Santa Maria della Carità (1260,) San Marco (1261,) San Giovanni Evangelista (1261,) Santa Maria Misericordia (1308,) San Rocco (1478,) and Scuola dei Carmini (1594.)

The Great Schools were housed in buildings purchased in order to give a home to the fraternity. Over the centuries, to increase the prestige of the Scuola, the buildings are adorned with precious works of art created by the most illustrious artists such as Canaletto, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese. With the fall of the Venetian Republic at the end of 1700, but in particular with the Napoleonic invasion of the early 1800’s, the Great Schools were suppressed and the treasures stored there (in addition to works of art, including furnishings and equipment) were scattered among art and antique shop merchants all over the globe.

The Government of the Serenissima never stopped the establishment of the Scuole because they were taxed and served as a relief valve for the power aspirations of the middle classes. The latter, completely excluded from political power, found out that participating in official positions inside the Scuole gave them satisfaction. Each school had its own Statute (Capitolare,) it was governed by a hierarchy whose greatest exponent was called Gastaldo or Guardìan Grande.

Today you can only visit some palaces of the Grandi Scuole that have managed to maintain some of its artistic heritage. Among the Schools that can be visited, the Scuola di San Rocco and the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista in the district of San Polo, and the Carmini in the Dorsoduro district. The building of the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità is now home to the Accademy Galleries, the Scuola di San Marco is home to the Civil Hospital, while the Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia has become host to a restoration workshop. The Scuola Grande di San Teodoro is used as a venue for concerts and exhibitions.

Below is a brief description of the works that can be admired in the Grandi Scuole that can be visited by tourists on their tour of Venice.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the Sistine Chapel of Venice

In 1564 Tintoretto was commissioned to decorate the building in Campo San Rocco, San Polo district. The great master and his students got to work and still today tourists visiting Venice can admire amazing works which, with regards to the homogeneity of the topics treated, are for the city what the Sistine Chapel is for the Vatican City.

In the Sala Terrena there are works related to the first pages of the Sacred Scripture, the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Massacre of the Innocents. In the Sala Superiore the Tintoretto and his disciples have told stories of the Old Testament: the ceiling is decorated with about 20 scenes depicting Adam and Eve, Moses, Abraham, Samson, Gione, Ezekiel, Jacob, and many characters in the history of the Church. Sala dell’Albergo features great works including the last moments of Jesus’ life, from the encounter with Pilate to the Ascent to Golgotha ​​and the Crucifixion.

Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista and the Miracles of the Cross

Between late 1400s and early 1500s, Vittore Carpaccio, Lazzaro Bastiani, but in particular Gentile Bellini, have painted inside the Scuola – located in San Polo – several teleri (paintings on large canvases attached directly to the wall) called Miracles of the Cross.

Inside the Oratory of the Scuola we find a relic of the Holy Cross dating back to the 14th century, an object of worship and inspiration of Bellini’s great works. In the Sala Capitolare are kept masterpieces by Massari: in the room, which has a height of over 10 meters and is lit by large windows, are the series of paintings dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and a large depiction of the Apocalypse. Around the main hall you can visit Sala dell’Albergo preserved intact since the 16th century and Sala delle Colonne so called because of the presence of five massive columns.

Scuola Grande dei Carmini, amid Frescoes and Wooden Sculptures

Situated in the Dorsoduro district, the Scuola Grande dei Carmini in Campo Santa Margherita is a large Baroque style building. On the ceiling of the Sala Capitolare you can admire a series of works by Tiepolo, and 18th-century works by Bernardino da Lugano.

In the Sala dell’Archivio there are wood carvings by Giacomo Piazzetta and 18th-century paintings on canvas by Giustino Menescardi. The wooden ceiling of Sala dell’Albergo, is decorated with a painting by Padovanino dating back to the mid-1600s. The Sala dell’Albergo has walls covered with bas-relief works by Giacomo Piazzetta, decorated with floral motifs. In the upper part of the room are visible paintings on canvas of the 18th century by Giustino Menescardi.

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