La Scuola Grande di San Rocco is one of the 6 Great Schools of Venice, and it is the only one still active. The other main schools are Santa Maria della Carità, San Marco, San Teodoro, San Giovanni Evangelista and La Misericordia.
These Schools were brotherhoods of citizens devoted to charity, in the name of their patron saint. In this case, the patron is San Rocco, protector against the plague. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was recognized by the Venetian Republic in 1478, but the present building was built only from 1515 to 1560. Four years later Tintoretto (member of the brotherhood), together with his scholars, started the decoration of the halls, where you can also admire some artworks by Titian, Tiepolo, Palma il Giovane and Giorgione. The leaflet you can take at the ticket office provides you with a map of the 3 halls with clear location and titles of all the paintings.
- Groundfloor hall (1583-87) a large rectangular hall, place of passage but also a place for liturgical functions. It was the least to be decorated, with scenes from the life of the Virgin and the infancy of Christ.
- The great staircase has decorations by Zanchi, Negri and Fumiani (The Virgin appears to the plague victims, The Virgin saves Venice from the plague and allegories: Charity and Reason before the poor, Science and History, Wealth and Peace. On the two sides of the staircase landing you can see The Annunciation by Titian and The Visitation by Tintoretto.
- Upper Hall (1575-81), called Sala Capitolare because it hosted the plenary meetings (Chapter). After completing the ceiling, Tintoretto offered to decorate also the walls and the altarpiece, committing to deliver 3 paintings per year for the Feast of San Rocco (August 16). He also paid for his colours, asking in return an annuity of 1000 ducats.
The three big canvases on the ceiling depict the three fundamental moments of the Jewish people journey to the Promised Land. On the ovals episodes of the Old Testament. On the walls scenes from the New Testament plus San Rocco and San Sebastiano, both invoked against the plague. All around you can see the wooden 1700 wardrobes, once containing books and documents. They present sublime decorations (allegorical figures and episodes of the life of San Rocco).
- Hostel Hall (1564-67) it was the meeting place of the School government. In 1564, the Bank and the Zonta (governing bodies) decided to hold a competition among the best painters in Venice: Salviati, Zuccari, Veronese and Tintoretto. Within a month they had to submit their designs. Tintoretto, while the others were still preparing their sketches, managed to place the painting with St. Rocco at the centre of the ceiling. It was a huge shock for the brotherhood, who didn’t want to pay him because he had not respected the rules. Tintoretto told them: If you don’t want to pay me, I will donate the painting to you. The School obviously accepted the gift. And Tintoretto ended up finishing the ceiling decoration for free. He then became a member of the brotherhood and decorated the rest of the hall with scenes of Christ’s Passion and Allegories. To properly admire the painting on the ceiling you can use a specific mirror. I couldn’t use it cause a kid wouldn’t leave it, he was having too much fun looking 🙂
- On the last floor you can see the Tresure (reliquaries, crucifixes and other religious objects). Honestly, those are not my kind of artworks. So I just took a quick look.
- The Church was built between 1489 and 1508 but has undergone some renovations. The façade for example is of 1700s. The leaflet contains the location of the main works (Tintoretto, Pordenone, Ricci, etc). The highlight for the believers is the urn with the relics of San Rocco.
In my opinion, you shouldn’t go if you’re not a fan of Tintoretto’s work, or if you’re not into art in general. The ticket is not that cheap, even if it helps the restoration and preservation works, and the subjects are all religious. So if you’re not that into art, better to stroll along the calli and have a gelato instead.
But for art lovers this is a chance to admire a cycle of paintings in their original seat. This is a rarity. Many palaces and castles in Italy have been deprived of their precious artworks during the past centuries. Sometimes by conquerors, sometimes simply because they were inheritance of an extinguished lineage. So, many wonderful paintings and sculptures, created specifically for a place, and often conceived as ensembles, are now separated and preserved in museums all over Italy or… the world. One for all, the disassembled studiolo of Alfonso d’Este, once in the Ferrara Castle. The paintings, created with a specific purpose for that specific place, are now in… Washington, London, Madrid and Mumbai.
This is the remarkable aspect of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco: 60 precious paintings all preserved in their original location.
Campo San Rocco, 3052 – Venice
9.30am – 5pm
Closed on January 1, December 25
The church is not visitable during Masses (h 11am)
Full Price 10€