The Venetian Schools - A primitive example of voluntary work

In Venice the word "School" has two completely different meanings:

 

  • the first is the one common all over the world and which identifies a place where teachers teach and students learn;
  • the second, which is the subject of our study, indicates a building where, in the Middle Ages, people who had in common the same art or craft, the same nationality, the same devotion to a saint, gathered with the aim of doing "good deeds", and for a moment let's try to think about the religiosity of men in 1300 when doing a good deed ensured "credits" for Paradise...

School, therefore, to be understood as Brotherhood, Community, Association of a category. It should not be forgotten, however, that the initial purely religious purpose was soon flanked by the Corporate one. The Schools, in their secular life, also became real centres of power, a sort of club where the interests of the category and its members were strongly defended.

When were the Schools born?

Around the middle of the 1200s religious brotherhoods began to emerge in various parts of Italy. They were communities of lay people united by devotion to the saint to whom the confraternity was named. In the absence of real social assistance ("welfare"), the aim was to be able to provide for the needs of the most needy members (widows, orphans, the sick) through donations from the wealthiest, bequests and membership fees.

The custom also spread to the Venetian population giving birth to the Schools which were of 4 types:

 

  • The Schools of devotion (or Common Schools)

         Where the inhabitants of a parish used to gather in community

 

  • The Schools of the Beaten

    Born with the purpose of atoning for one's sins through penance (the term "beaten" represents the initial custom of self-flagellation for penance)

  • Craft Schools

    In the wake of the Schools of devotion, craftsmen also began to gather around their own School, almost always named after the Patron Saint of the category, which represented their activity, for example the School of Carpenters (Marangoni), the School of Weavers (Testori), the School of Shoemakers, etc.. Every art or craft, and in those days there were about a hundred of them, had its own.

    A further evolution of the activity of the Artisan Schools was that of establishing real rules for the productive and commercial activity of the specific art, rules to which all the brethren had to follow. 

 

  • The "National" Schools

        The Craft Schools were joined by the "National" ones.

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The importance of Venice as a commercial centre for the merchant traffic of Europe meant that many foreign  communities were present, also eager to find a specific centre of aggregation useful to fight the nostalgia of their  homeland, to be a reference and a help for people of the same nationality who foundthemselves passing through  Venice as well as providing the same assistance to their needy confreres.

 A multitude of other small Schools arose, such as the School of the Slaves (Dalmatians), the Lombards, the Germans, the Greeks, the Albanians and so on.

The Large Schools

Initially, the Schools were mostly made up of middle-class people. The nobles, eager to make their talents of "good Christian" look good and to join together, began between 1400 and 1500 to join the various Schools of the Battuti that, for the abundance of economic means available and for their size were then called Schools Great.

 

  • Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità, today the seat of the Accademia Gallery.
  • Scuola Grande di San Marco, today seat of the Civil Hospital
  • Grande Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista,
  • Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia, in the 20th century used as a Palasport and today completely restored and used for public events.
  • Scuola Grande di San Rocco,
  • Scuola Grande di San Teodoro,
  • Scuola Grande di Santa Maria Giustizia o San Fantin, today the seat of the Ateneo Veneto, next to the La Fenice Theatre.
  • Grande Scuola della Beata Vergine del Santissimo Rosario, which today is only a part of the Church of St. John and Paul,
  • Scuola Grande dei Carmini.

The Venetian Schools - Real caskets full of precious artistic works of art

 

The desire of the brothers to make their school more and more beautiful favored their artistic and architectural development. The most famous architects of the calibre of Jacopo Sansovino, Pietro Lombardo, Mauro Codussi, Antonio Abbondi "Lo Scarpagnino" were called to design its construction, while painters such as Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Giambattista Tiepolo, just to mention the most famous, were called to embellish its interiors forever.

The Venetian Schools - What is left today?

Of the hundreds of Schools (some historical documents speak of over 400) there are very few left today, but spending a few hours to visit them is a must, and not only for art lovers.

The remaining Schools are 4 "Big Schools":

 

  • Scuola Grande di San Rocco, next to the Church of San Rocco in the homonymous Campo,
  • Grande Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, very close to the Church of the Frari,
  • Scuola Grande dei Carmini, very close to Campo Santa Margherita,
  • Scuola Grande di San Teodoro, very close to Campo San Bortolomio in Rialto,
    and a "National School."

and a "National School":

  • Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (also called Dalmatian School of Saints George and Tryphon) not far
    from Piazza San Marco, in the picturesque Castello district.

 

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

 

You cannot leave Venice without visiting the Scuola di San Rocco, one of the most beautiful buildings in the interior of Venice and a true apotheosis of Jacopo Robusti called Il Tintoretto. The great genius of Venetian painting has dedicated many years of his life in its rooms, leaving an impressive series of paintings. The large painting of the Crucifixion, in the hall of the hotel, alone is worth a visit. Once you leave the school, the Church of San Rocco awaits you, also embellished by the great paintings by Tintoretto.

 

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

 

Much smaller in size than the Scuole Grandi, the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the only surviving 
"National School", has a very fascinating atmosphere and contains a large cycle of paintings by Vittor Carpaccio.
It is really worth spending an hour inside.

Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista

Located a few steps from the Frari Church, it is the oldest Venetian "Scuola Grande".
At its entrance one of the greatest masterpieces of Venetian architecture: the marble portal by Pietro Lombardo
(another masterpiece of his is the presbytery of the Church of Miracles).

Scuola Grande dei Carmini

Work of the architects Francesco Caustello and Baldassarre Longhena (the same who designed the Basilica
della Salute) is located a few steps from the famous Campo Santa Margherita. Inside, numerous works by
Giambattista Tiepolo.

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