Scuola Grande di San Rocco, or School of St. Roch the patron saint of plague victims, began in 1478 as a Scuola dei Battuti (flagellants’ association) and after various difficulties, it built its first independent headquarters near to the Frari, at the beginning of the next century.
History. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, or School of St. Roch the patron saint of plague victims, began in 1478 as a Scuola dei Battuti (flagellants’ association) and after various difficulties, it built its first independent headquarters near to the Frari.
In 1485, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, came into possession of St Roch’s body, after it had been retrieved from Montpellier in France and was temporarily stored in the church of San Germiniano. The saint’s body was then later moved to the church of San Silvestro, when dispute broke out of ownership of the body. Finally, the confraternity’s members decided to go back to its original headquarters in the Frari.
On land ceded to them by the monastery of the Frari, their first social headquarters was built; but was quickly subject to several renovations. Today, it is known as the “Scoletta” or Little School and after a radical overhaul is used for temporary exhibitions.
ABOVE: Scuola Grande on left, church on right. Engraving showing relationship to the Frari, at rear left.
The confraternity employed the architect Bartolomeo (some suggest possibly his son, Pietro), to oversee building their own church dedicated to San Rocco; which was begun in 1489.
The deep veneration for this saint, to whom people turned during the frequent terrible plague epidemics and significant donations of alms from wealthy Venetians; led the Scuola to grow rapidly. During the 16th century, it became the richest of the Venetian confraternities.
In 1517, construction of a new monumental headquarter was started probably to pre-existing plans, drawn up by the Scuola’s governing body. This was a strictly traditional model, common to other Venetian scuole, consisting of two halls, one above the other, taking up the main body of the building. It was to reflect their grandeur and was required to be sumptuously decorated with art.
Unfortunately, the project did not appear to go smoothly to completion.
In 1524, due to differences of design opinion with Bon, work was continued by Sante Lombardo; only to be replaced three years later by Antonio Scarpagnino. Following his death in 1549, the last architect to complete the work was Giangiacomo dei Grigi; finally finishing the project in 1560.
In the 18th century Giorgio Fossati, added a Treasury on top of the imperial staircase; clearly visible on the western facade overlooking the Campo di Castelforte.
Between 1882 and 1885 the architect Pietro Saccardo oversaw the replacement of the flooring in the Upper Hall.
The design, essentially similar to other scuole in Venice, is characterised by two main halls, at ground and first floor level. Entered from the campo, the vast “Sala Terra” has a nave and two side aisles, separated with columns. From this hall, a staircase (with a landing surmounted by a dome) leads to the “Sala Capitolare”(Chapter room); used for meetings of the fellows. It provided access to the “Sala dell’Albergo”, which housed the Banca and the Zonta (the confraternity’s supervisory boards).
LEFT: Sala Terra (Ground Floor)
ABOVE: Sala Capitolare (Chapter Room)
In 1564, the painter Tintoretto won the commission to provide paintings for the Scuola. All the works in the building were executed in stages between 1564 and 1587 are by Tintoretto, his son Domenico and assistants.
The first room to be decorated between 1564 and 1566, was the Sala dell’Albergo with the oval Glory of St Roch on the ceiling and scenes from the Passion of Christ.
Lastly the “Sala Terra”, painted between 1583 and 1587 with eight large canvases on the wall showing episodes from the life of the Virgin and the childhood of Christ.
In 1789 the scuola received the title of “Arch-confraternity” from Pope Pius VI and was the only one of the Great Scuole, to survive the fall of the Republic. All the others were in fact suppressed by Napoleonic decree in 1806.
Fortunately for this Scuola, the order was revoked; although it did lose most of its substantial capital assets. It was able however, to retain ownership of the buildings of the Scuola, the church and the Scoletta.
It is a unique site, where over 60 paintings, considered his most celebrated pictorial cycle; are preserved in their original setting in a building, that has undergone little alteration since its construction.
ABOVE: The Grand Staircase
Since 2013, Jaeger-LeCoultre has been a significant benefactor of the Scuola and the recent further restoration works.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco can be visited daily, while the Scoletta, is used for temporary exhibitions. It is a unique site for talking time to savour the history and magnificent art. Combine it with a visit to the wonderful Frari.
San Polo 3052, Campo San Rocco. Vaporetto: San Toma
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