The Scuola degli Schiavoni

The Scuola degli Schiavoni (Scuola Dalmata) dedicated to St George, was established in the 15th century by the Dalmatian Slavs, or “Schiavoni,” who lived in Venice. This “minor” Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni located in the district of Castello, is renowned for its famous series of panels by Vittore Carpaccio; painted between 1502 and 1508; dedicated to the life of Christ and its patron saints.


ABOVE: The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, bathed in sunlight.  Frontage by Giovanni de Zan (1551)


History.  Since the early Middle Ages, Venice had significant commercial relationships with Dalmatia, where there were many important Venetian colonies, including the Adriatic seaports of Split and Dubrovnik.  The relationship became even stronger, when the whole region was conquered by Venice, in the early 15th century.

In the city, the Dalmatian immigrants were called “Schiavoni”.  They formed a brotherhood, approved by the Consiglio dei Dieci in 1451.  Mostly sailors and workers, their initial meeting place was near the church of San Giovanni di Malta.

In that period, the corporation bought the former hospital of St. Catherine on the side of the Rio Sant’ Agostin in the district of Castello and started restoration as its scuola.

In the first years of the sixteenth century, the scuola undertook an extensive remodelling and decorating campaign for their meeting house and Vittore Carpaccio received the commission to paint a cycle of paintings, narrating the stories of the confraternity’s patron saints Jerome, Augustine, George and Tryphon.

In 1551 on the one-hundredth anniversary of its founding, the scuola hired Giovanni de Zan, head architect of the Arsenale; to rebuild the facade of their confraternity in Castello.  The design follows the style of Jacopo Sansovino.

This work involved bringing Carpaccio’s paintings originally on the first-floor “Sala dell’ Albergo” downstairs, the building of altars in both floors and moving the staircase.


Two sculpted reliefs framed by Ionic columns, are the focal point of the facade’s decoration.

The lower relief, carved by Pietro da Salò, depicts Saint George fighting the dragon to liberate the princess.  Above this image, another earlier relief depicts the Madonna and Child, flanked by Saints Catherine and John the Baptist, who presents a knight of the order of Saint John of Jerusalem to the Virgin (mid-14th C, Venetian).  The outside wall down the right side, also retains traces of the building before the 1551 rebuilding.

LEFT: Lower relief  of St George slaying the dragon and above that the earlier relief of Madonna and Child flanked by Saints Catherine and John the Baptist.



ABOVE: Ground floor with altar and Vittore Carpaccio’s wonderful series of paintings.


Interior.  On the ground floor are the justly famous nine panels painted by Vittore Carpaccio between 1502 and 1508, dedicated to the lives of Christ and the patron saints of the scuola.  Inspired by Jacopo da Varagine’s Golden Legend, they were originally upstairs in the Sala dell’ Albergo.

Probably the most famous is “The Vision of Saint Augustine”, with its striking still-life elements and attentive cute white dog.  It shows Augustine in his study writing a letter to Jerome, just at the moment he is pondering in writing the question of whether martyr saints like John the Baptist were more blessed.  The just-deceased Jerome comes to him in a shining radiance and assures him that there is no such distinction in Heaven. 


ABOVE: “The Vision of Saint Augustine” by Vittore Carpaccio


On the right wall are “St. Jerome and the Lion”, the “Funeral of St. Jerome” and two New Testament scenes: “The Agony in the Garden” (from Matthew’s gospel) and “The Calling of Saint Matthew”, painted in 1502.

On the left is the legend of Saint George in scenes, “St George and the Dragon”, “The Triumph of St George” and his “Baptism of the Gentiles”.  These and “Saint Tryphonius and the Basilisk”, were painted in 1507.

The Madonna and Child over the altar is by Benedetto Carpaccio, Vittore’s son.  It had previously been attributed to Vincenzo Catena.


ABOVE:  St George slaying the dragon


The door to the right of the altar leads to the sacristy, which had been used by the Scuola di San Giovanni; but following that scuola’s suppression, it was incorporated into the Scuola Dalmata in 1839.  It now contains the scuola’s important objects, including silver-work.

To the left of the altar, the staircase begins with a small holy water stoup, held by a female hand above which is a head of St John the Baptist; an English alabaster of the 16th century.  PHOTO:Left

The works upstairs in the Sala dell’ Albergo, mostly from the 17th century; are of lesser artistic interest.

The hall has a wooden ceiling, by Zuane de Bastian in 1604 and painted panels attributed to Andrea Vicentino.  The central octagon shows The “Apotheosis of Saint Tryphonius”, with irregular triangles of the Evangelists and ovals of God the Father, The Virgin and Child and Saints Jerome and (possibly)Barbara.

The carved wooden altarpiece is quite interesting.  It was probably the ceiling roundel here when the Carpaccio panels were on the walls.  It is flanked by a pair of panels, depicting Saints Jerome and Tryphonius described as “influence of Antonio Vivarini’.


Upon suppression in 1806, the Grand Master of the scuola wrote to Beauharnais, Napoleon’s man on the spot, pleading a special case for “this last bulwark of the Schiavoni” and was granted a rare exemption from looting of its artworks.




ABOVE:  Artistic impression of the Scuola degli Schiavoni.


Ruskin quoted:-
Of the figures of the princess and her father in the second St George scene: “there is nothing elsewhere in art that is the like of this little piece of work for supreme, serene, unassuming, unfaltering sweetness of painter’s perfect art”.  On a Christmas visit after the death of his beloved Rose la Touch, he came over all mystical and hallucinated that she was communicating with him via symbolic plants and parrots in the Carpaccio paintings.

Henry James quoted:-
The place is small and incommodious, the pictures are out of sight and ill-lighted, the custodian is rapacious, the visitors are mutually intolerable, but the shabby little chapel is a palace of art




See my other posts on the Scuole Grandi of Venice


The Scuola degli Schiavoni    The Scuola degli Schiavoni    The Scuola degli Schiavoni

The Scuola degli Schiavoni    The Scuola degli Schiavoni    The Scuola degli Schiavoni

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