The “Scuole Grandi”
Among Venice's countless art treasures, buildings known as ‘Scuole' or ‘Scuole Grandi' might be mentioned as unmissable attractions. It goes without saying that these are not schools in the accepted sense of the word, but one of the innumerable distinctive features of this unique city. During the ancient Republic of Venice, from the 13th century onwards, the word ‘Scuola' was, in fact, used to describe a brotherhood, or rather an association of lay members who met to provide assistance to poor people, widows, orphans, old and sick people. The ‘Scuole' were divided into
Devotional Schools (or Scuole Grandi) which gathered for religious purposes in the name of a patron saint, Schools of Arts and Crafts and Schools of
Foreign Communities (Scuole Piccole or Scuolette). Until the fall of the Republic, they represented a real kind of welfare system, initially destined for members but later extended to the entire population.
The ‘Scuole Grandi' had countless means at their disposal, a part of which they invested to embellish their own headquarters with paintings by well-known artists including Tintoretto, Jacopo Palma il Giovane or Giambattista Tiepolo. As time passed, the most important Schools built palaces for their residents designed by famous architects, and adorned them with paintings by the best artists of the era. After the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797, the Schools were suppressed by a Napoleonic edict (1807) and within the space of a short time their assets ended up at antique markets and collections throughout the world.
Several of the best preserved Schools were reconstituted and transformed into museums that can now be visited by the public.
These include the Great Schools of San Giovanni Evangelista (www. scuolasangiovanni.it), the Scuola di San Rocco (www.scuolagrandesanrocco. it) and the Scuola dei Carmini (www. scuolagrandecarmini.it). Others, including the Scuole Grandi di San Teodoro (www. scuolagrandesanteodoro.it), the Scuola di San Marco (the seat of the city's hospital), www.scuolagrandesanmarco.it), and the Scuola di Santa Maria Giustizia or San Fantin, currently home to Venice's Faculty of Science, Literature and Arts (www. ateneoveneto.org), were converted into public exhibition spaces and institutions. The Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and the Scuola di San Nicolò dei Greci (currently Venice's Museum of Icons), are ‘small' schools whose artistic treasures are well worth a visit.
Lastly, an interesting fact: the facade of the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità, suppressed in 1806, is now the entrance to the magnificent Accademia Galleries.
Scuola di San Rocco