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.

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 found themselves 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."