Thursday, November 28, 2013

La Scuola Grande di San Marco Re-opens

A view of the Sala Capitolare, looking south, in the direction of the scuola's famous facade
Sandro and I happened upon the newly re-opened Scuola Grande di San Marco by accident the other day, after stopping in at the hospital to which the scuola provides the most ornamental of facades.

The ground floor grande andito, or entrance hall, of the old scuola and the present-day hospital has always been open to visitors who usually stop in for a look after visiting the nearby church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. But the space has been cleaned up, and the large wood and glass concierge's office that used to run along part of one side wall has been removed. The concierge now resides in a sleek all-glass fish-tank-like office that spans the width of the front entrance just inside the door, and leaves  the entire grande andito free of anything that might impede one's appreciation of its fine dimensions and array of lovely columns.

Of course, Sandro and I were already familiar with the ground floor; it was the upstairs that blew us away.

L'altare maggiore, designed by Sansovino, at the north end of the Sala Capitolare
Oddly enough I've yet to find out exactly how long the upstairs Sala Capitolare (aka Sala San Marco Biblioteca) had been closed. One retired Venetian I spoke to while we admired the space said it had been "years and years", even decades. Another person I spoke to later in the day, someone who's lived here for over 2 decades, said it had been just a matter of months. I know the latter claim isn't true, as I tried to see it at least a year ago and was told it was closed. But the former also seems to be off, as a 2004 guidebook I have refers to the library's beautiful carved ceiling.

In any case, its reopening was considered significant enough to merit a special civic presentation on the day of the Festa della Madonna della Salute, complete with the deputy mayor, free guided tours and live music. I missed it, but I was happy to just find complete coverage of the festivities, with photos, on the French language blog of Olia i Klod:

One thing I know is that it had to have been closed long enough, or its displays altered greatly enough, to have aroused considerable interest among Venetians, whom for the glorious present seem to be its primary visitors. "Beo!" said the retired man in Venetian while looking at the ceiling, after we'd been speaking in Italian.

The center of the Sala Capitolare's ornate ceiling
And, indeed, the ornate 1519 ceiling in the Sala Capitolare by Vettor Scienzia da Feltre and Lorenzo di Vincenzo da Trento--beautifully restored and well-lit--is stunning.

Domenico and Jacopo Tintoretto's San Marco che benedice le isole di Venezia, flanked by an annunciation by Nicolò Renieri
Alas, most of the paintings that once decorated the scuola's large Sala Capitolare and its smaller adjoining room, the Sala Dell'Albergo, were dispersed after the fall of the Republic in 1797. The walls of the latter in fact are adorned with beautiful reproductions: of at least one painting that had once certainly belonged to the scuola--of Saint Mark preaching in Alexandria, Egypt by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini that is now in the Galleria Brera in Milan--and of others on the life of Saint Mark. The Sala dell' Albergo I've left for another post, but you can see it on the link to Olia i Klod blog above.

One of the works that is known to have originally hung in the scuola is the above work San Marco che benedice le isole di Venezia by Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto. This is one of three pieces by Domenico and his famous father now in the scuola in which, according to the informative nicely-produced small guide available onsite (in Italian only), the hand of the son is mostly evident. Now, while being the son of the great Tintoretto could not have been as bad as being his daughters (two of whom were cloistered, as you can read about here:, looking at the doughy modeling in the some of the three paintings here I couldn't help but feel a bit for poor Domenico who had no prayer of measuring up to his progenitor.

Domenico and Jacopo Tintoretto's Trasporto del corpo di San Marco sulla nave beside the high altar
But paintings, and copies of paintings, and architectural works by Codussi and Sansovino aren't the only things to see in la scuola. For the the space is also devoted to the history of medicine, with early printed medical texts and sometimes frightening early medical instruments, including a couple of illustrations and one unfortunate "specimen" quite likely to give an almost 6-year-old boy nightmares--if he'd seen them.

But Sandro and I kept our eyes focused on more pleasing prospects, of which there are many; some of which you can see below, more of which I'll probably inevitably post in the future, and all of which I'd suggest are worth seeing for oneself.

An anonymous life-sized 15th-century crucifixion in wood in front of the high altar
A detail from Le nozze di Cana, 1622, by Alessandro Varotari, called Padovanino
Another detail from Le nozze di Cana

An illustration from Cirurgia universale, published in Venice in 1605
A 17th-century medical text in Latin on the treatment of hemorrhoids, with some of the required instruments in foreground
Detail of an undated folio page of what appears to be a picnic gone very wrong
Among the few non-medical items on display is this 1929 model of the planned development of the island of Sacca Fisola by one U. Fantucci. Note the extensive free-standing arcades connecting the different areas.
A view of one of the three ground floor doors designed by Mauro Codussi, along with two of the 10 columns of the grande andito, or entrance hall
A view of Codussi's second entrance to his stairway up to the Sala Capitolare


  1. Wow! What an amazing space, and your photos are awesome!

    I hope Bert will come along soon and give more info. I'm pretty sure that it's not been closed for that long. I tried to visit it in 2010 on Bert's rec - he told me the hours and at that time, you rang a bell for someone to open the door. But when I rang the bell, no one came. So I moseyed along and found the cat sanctuary in an old cloister:

    LOL> yes, poor Domenico T. :) Thanks for linking to my post about the poor daughters. And the thought of getting hemorrhoids gives me the shivers, even more so in the 17th century.

    I don't always comment but I enjoy your blog so much. Cheers to Sandro and your family and our beautiful Venezia. Happy Thanksgiving too!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments and good wishes, Annie. And for corroborating Bert's account of how long it's been closed--as well as how one used to be admitted. Ringing a bell to which no one responds is never a particularly fun experience, and yet your account of what you next found is as interesting as anything you might have seen if you'd been admitted to your first destination.

      I can never pass the abandoned church of Sant' Anna without thinking of your great post about Tintoretto's daughters and "The Nun's Hell".

  2. This is such welcome news, and I'll certainly be one of the many who make the pilgrimage to this splendid edifice. Evviva!


    1. Just to commemorate the old days when it was far less accessible, Yvonne, I hope you'll do something to get yourself chucked out!

  3. I sneaked a photo of the ceiling on film in 2006. I was escorted to the door and chucked out by the librarian. I went digital in 2008 and I'm pretty sure I would have tried again in that year, and in 2009 and 2010, but it was always closed. There were no signs saying it was under restoration that I can recall, but it was certainly closed 24/7. I have no more information about it than that.

    1. Thanks for providing some reliable information about how long the rooms have been inaccessible, Bert. Did the space look different when you were there a few years ago, Bert?

  4. J'aime beaucoup cette Scuola, mais je préfère Titien au Tintoret.

  5. Hello, we visited the Scuola Grande today on the recommendation of our home exchange host. It is really quite stunning, isn't it? I am including a link to your post in my own post on Aussie in France.

    1. Thank you for the link, Aussie in France. I've fallen behind not only on responding to comments on my own blog, but on your posts on Venice (which I enjoyed), so I'm looking forward to catching up with what I've missed lately.