The Scuola Grande della Misericordia, dedicated to Saint Mary, was founded in 1261 and formed one of the seven Scuole Grandi of Venice. The present site or Scuola Nuova is located just to the south, over the bridge from the Scuola Vecchia.
The Scuola Vecchia (Old School), still stands today and is situated on the Campo dell’Abbazia, at the eastern end of the Rio della Sensia in Cannaregio. It was built on land provided by the Augustinian monastery of Santa Maria Valverde from 1310.
Rebuilding in the 1440’s took place, financed by the Bon family and involved expanding forward into the campo and the erection of a new facade. It had a Gothic arch with a large miracle-working relief of the Madonna della Misericordia attributed to Bartolomeo Bon installed in 1451.
The arch was demolished in 1612, and the relief is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, along with other sculptures from the scuola.
Scuola Nuova (New School).
Expanded several times in the course of the centuries, in the late 15th century the Misericordia first proposed the reconstruction of its headquarters on a new site, to provide a larger and more prestigious location for its increasing membership.
The new site chosen was just to the south of the old school, just across the bridge on the Campo dell’Abbazia. The main entrance is located on the end of the Rio della Misericordia, on the campo of the same name.
At the beginning of the 16th century the project by Alessandro Leopardi was chosen, but the defeat at Agnadello (1507), proved to be a major setback for the Republic of Venice and the construction would not resume for another two decades.
LEFT: The Scuola Nuova, on the end of the Rio della Misericordia, on the campo of the same name.
Arriving in Venice after the Sack of Rome, the Florentine architect Jacopo Sansovino was entrusted with the project for the construction of the “Scuola Nuova”. Doge Andrea Gritti, had identified him as the ideal person to implement his architectural renovation project.
The development of the project was hindered by obstacles and re-considerations and the building remained unfinished. Begun in 1532, the imposing structure was strongly influenced by Roman classicism. Sansovino designed the interior referring to the layout of Roman basilicas, while maintaining the traditional model of the Venetian schools.
ABOVE L: Ground floor room and R: grand staircase
The interiors completed only after his death in 1589, were richly decorated with works of art; worthy of the importance of the Venetian Scuola Grande. Veronese, Zanchi, Lazzarini, Pellegrini and last but not least Domenico Tintoretto, son of the famous Jacopo, were only some of the artists involved in the decoration of a building; that still retains the splendour and prestige with which it was conceived.
Unfinished at the time of the death of Sansovino, the building was not inaugurated until 1583 and works continued for another two hundred years.
The end of the Republic of Venice, forced the confraternity to leave the site.
Since the beginning of the 19th century the Scuola has been used in different ways: firstly, as military lodgings, then as warehouse and finally as the State Archives.
In 1914, it became home to the educational and sporting activities of the Reyer Sports Club, which in spite of many logistic difficulties managed to transform it into a sports temple in Venice.
The first floor became the official basketball court of the Venetian team Reyer, complete with wooden grandstands.
The Misericordia was home to the Reyer Sports Club until 1991, when the City of Venice entrusted further restoration of the building to Giovanni Battista Fabbri, although again this work was never completed.
The works finally reached completion in 2015, thanks to a new restoration project for the Scuola Grande, by architect Alberto Torsello.
LEFT & ABOVE: The former basketball court on the first floor of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia
Please see my other blogs of the “Scuole Grandi” series
—–Scuola Grande della Misericordia—–Scuola Grande della Misericordia—–Scuola Grande della Misericordia—–