Scuola Grande di San Rocco

This scuola was built on ground that was relinquished by the Franciscans of the Frari church. For a good summary of the painting cycle with accurate images painted by Tintoretto in this scuola: click [here] for the Web Gallery of Art, Wikipedia with many images or the official site of this scuola.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande di San Rocco Venice Church San Rocco aerial

A scuola is, as you have learned, an organization of the laity from a certain group or guild. The members joined together in a building to do penance and pray. The middle class did not have any political influence, the only place to express themselves was in their scuola. A few scuola had their own church and their own building like the San Rocco. The laity had their building, of which they were very proud, be decorated by artists. Almost every grand Venetian painter, sculptor and architect were given important orders by the laity. A journey along the famous scuola means a tour along famous pieces of art.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco big size    facade
Youtube Scuola Grande de San Rocco (11.49 minutes)
facade Scuola Grande di San Rocco Venice

photo: David Cunningham

This scuola was founded in the honour of the Saint Roch (San Rocco) as a charity for the ill. The construction was started in 1515 by Bartolomeo Bon. The money was raised by those Venetians who were spared by the plague. Roch was the saint of those Venetians. If we were to believe the hagiography about Roch, he has lived an extraordinary life.

The disease leaves scars on the body of the survivors. Roch wasn’t trusted in his hometown, because of those scars. He gets thrown in jail. He dies, but God engraves a message in the wall of his cell. Roch is appointed as plague caretaker. Roch’ bones are stolen from Montpellier and brought to Venice. Roch is often depicted with his dog.

At the age of twenty Roch gave away all his possessions and went on pilgrimage. On his way to Rome he takes care of people who suffer from the plague.

At Piacenza he gets infected with the disease himself, but his dog brings him bread and an angel heals his wounds. Roch was healed.

In this scuola he is being depicted without his dog, but the scar of the plague on his left leg is visible. The scuola owns a relic  of Saint Roch, a finger of him is present. There is a relief that shows how San Roch helps people infected by the plague in the neighbouring church.

relief sculpture San Rocco church Venice
San Rocco relief sculpture San Rocco church Venice

photo: Branislav L. Slantchev

This very fancy silver and gold reliquary at the Scuola Grande and is only displayed on a few occasions.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Reliquary  San Rocco’s finger
 only on special occasions
Reliquary San Rocco’s finger Scuola Grande di San Rocco

 

Canaletto ‘Feast day of San Rocco Scuola grande di San Rocco’
campo San Rocco
Canaletto Feast day of San Rocco Scuola grande di San Rocco

This scuola, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, mainly displays works by Tintoretto, as many as fifty-six paintings. The building was completed between 1515 and 1560 by Bartholomeo Bon and Antonio Abbondi. The adjacent church, the San Rocco, offers a good map of this scuola, accurately indicating which paintings can be found where. The entire cycle of paintings reads like a comic. The story begins in the small hall on the first floor. So after we enter the scuola, we go up the stairs, through the big hall into the small hall: the Sala dell’’Albergo.

Giuseppe Borsato ‘Doge visit the Scuola San Rocco’ 

Jacopo Robusti was born in 1518, as the son of a dyer, hence his nickname Tintoretto, or little dyer. In the year of the birth of Tintoretto, Titian was working on the Assumption of the Virgin, behind the main alter in the Frari –church. Tintoretto spent a short while as an apprentice of Titian, but if the story is true, Titian hastily got rid of him.

Tintoretto ‘Self portrait’ detail 1588 Louvre Paris
Tintoretto Tintoretto Self portrait detail 1588 Louvre Paris

Titian immediately saw the enormous talent of the young boy and kicked him out on the first day, since he did not want any competition. Titian is an entirely different painter than Tintoretto. Titian was worldly, found himself at various imperial courts, while Tintoretto, as it seems, only left Venice once, when he had to deliver a series of paintings in Mantua. While Titian sold well and lived in opulence, Tintoretto was a man who often painted for free. He was so religious that he often offered churches and scuola to work free of charge. Titian and Tintoretto come from generations that have undergone a different history. Under Titian, Venice was at its peak. The city was enormously rich and the Renaissance prevailed, in which the good life played an important role.

During the life of Tintoretto, La Serenissima started began her demise. The Counter-Reformation also became more prominent. The battle against Lutheranism and Calvinism by the Catholics was fought through fire and steel. Tintoretto’s work is heavily influenced by religious fervour and mysticism. The works of Titian are much more worldly; splendour and beautiful colours play a dominant role in his paintings. These two painters are often seen as opposites. Their works show two sides of the Venetian school.

Sala dell’Albergo

In 1564, the brotherhood of the scuola Grande di San Rocco called upon painters to create a design for the middle part of the ceiling of the new chapter house (Sala dell’’Albergo). Veronese, Salviati and Zuccari went to work. Tintoretto decided to draw a painting of the St. Roch in full glory on the ceiling, with large brush strokes in his usual quick way. Of course he did this secretly, and he made sure it was properly covered up. On the day of assessment, the artists showed their designs in the chapter house. Once everyone looked at the little dyer, he merely pulled a rope, unveiling the fully completed painting to everyone. Great tumult broke out: this was not fair, but the decision was in favour of Tintoretto, since he was commissioned to make a huge cycle of paintings.

Tintoretto ‘the Glorification of St. Roch’  big size
St. Roch   ceiling       part of the ceiling
Tintoretto 'The Glorification of St. Roch' Sala dell Albergo Scuola grande di San Rocco

Layout of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco Sala dell’Albergo: first floor the small hall:

1.   St. Roch in glory
2.   Spring
3.   Summer
4.   Autumn
5.   Winter
6.   Allegory Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista
7.   Allegory Scuola della Misericordia
8.   Allegory Scuola di San Marco
9.   Truth (virtue)
10. Allegory Scuola di San Teodoro
11. Faith (virtue)
12. Female figure
13. Happiness (virtue)
14. Female figure
15. Goodness (virtue)
16. Allegory Scuola della Carità
17. Generosity (virtue)
18. The journey to Calvary 
19. Ecce homo
20. Christ before Pilate
21. The Crucifixion
22. A  prophet
23. A prophet

At the reproaches of some brothers of the scuola about not having complied to the agreements, Tintoretto replied according to Vasari:

‘This is my way of drawing. I know no other way and a model has to be made so that it would deceive no one. And I do not want money for the work or the materials.’

Cited from: Tom Nichols,’Tintoretto Tradition and Identity’, Reaktion Books, London, 1999 p. 153

Tintoretto ‘Crucifixion’ Sala dell’Albergo

 

Tintoretto
Crucifixion big size
Tintoretto Crucifixion Sala dell'Albergo Scuola grande di San Rocco

Tintoretto was willing to do almost anything to get assignments. He often offered to paint in any desired style. If Tintoretto caught wind of someone else possibly getting an assignment, he would offer to do it for less money and paint it in the same style. He would sometimes even do it free of charge.

Tintoretto completed the ceiling in the summer and autumn of that same year: 1564. The four seasons are pictured in the corners in the small tondi. Also, John the Evangelist or St. Mark are visible. The other scuola, such as the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, Scuola di San Marco, Scuola della Misericordia, Scuola Theodorus and the Scuola della Carità are also painted on the ceiling as allegorical figures. The figures depicted, including women, represent good luck or faith. These figures reveal the profound influence Michelangelo had on Tintoretto’s art.

Happiness big size
Tintoretto happiness Sala dell'Albergo Scuola Grande di San Rocco

After the ceiling, Tintoretto painted ‘Crucifixion’ in 1565: a gigantic canvas that measures 536 x 1224 cm, covering the entire back. This work is first painted on the walls of this room. It is the climax of the other wall paintings.

Sala dell’Albergo
Christ before Pilate, Ecce homo,  The journey to Calvary
Tintoretto Sala dell'Albergo Scuola Grande di San Rocco

After the flagellation, or ‘Ecce Homo’, in the centre above the door, where Pilate is standing to the right of Christ, Christ is seen in front of Pontius Pilate on the right. The Biblical story of the bearing of the cross continues on the far left.

The Ascent to Calvary big size
Christ
Tintoretto Ascent to Calvary Sala dell'Albergio Scuola Grande di San Rocco

 

Christ in front of Pilate big size

Tintoretto prepared himself well. He made drawings and sketched a number of characters (Uffizi, Victoria and Albert museum London and Museum Boymans van Beuningen). He also directly drew the main outline of the composition on the canvas. Quite unlike Giorgione’s, ‘The Tempest’, who worked directly on the canvas, but this is unavoidable in such a composition with that many characters. During the last restoration it came to light that this was Tintoretto’s work method for all of his paintings in this scuola. Furthermore, a folded piece of the edge was discovered under the ceiling. This means that this part has been in the dark for centuries, so the original colours are still visible in the detail below:

If you read the story in the Gospels (Matthew 27 : 33, Mark 15 : 2, Luke 23 : 32 or John 19 : 28), the dice playing for Christ’s clothes returns, as well as the man who wants to press vinegar into the wounds with a sponge. The lonely Christ is completely isolated in the crowd. Threatening dark clouds are hanging above him. Onlythe characters below, at the cross, are torn by the event. John looks up at Christ with admiration. Tintoretto himself is only watching as a spectator.

original colors
Scuola Grande di San Rocco Sala dell'Albergo original colors

Big, strong diagonals pierce the body of Christ. The eyes are immediately drawn to the isolated, lonely Christ. It is a very dynamic painting: crowded but still very legible. Tintoretto achieved this by carefully work with light and dark: chiaroscuro. A light that seems to come more out of the objects themselves, even though shadows appear and the light comes from the right. The wind blows from left to right, as can be deduced from the trees and the flag.

Tintoretto ‘Crucifixion’ Sala dell’Albergo big size
Tintoretto Crucifixion Sala dell'Albergo Scuola Grande di San Rocco
   
Nailing to the cross big size  Raising the cross big size
Tintoretto Crucifixion Nailing to the cross Sala dell'Albergo Scuola Grande di San Rocco Tintoretto Crucifixion Raising the cross Sala dell'Albergo Scuola Grande di San Rocco
   
Crucifixion big size  
 

Tintoretto painted his last two pieces, ‘Mary Magdalene’ and ‘Mary of Egypt’, six years before his death. He spent a total of twenty-four years on the cycle. At the location, I will explain that his works are not just randomly arranged on the walls and ceilings. A conscious choice of subjects – of course religious – was made, for which the subjects on the walls are directly related to the images on the ceiling.

Sala Superiore

In medieval times and later, the Old Testament was read as if it had a double meaning. All sorts of events in the Old Testament were read and interpreted as a foreshadowing of the New Testament; this is called a prefiguration. Thus Jonah on the ceiling in the large hall on the first floor (see map upstairs, no. 7 and no. 26) is a prefiguration of the resurrection of Jesus on the wall. Jonah spent three days and nights inside the fish before he was spat out and came back to life. Jesus also resided in the tomb for three days and nights after the crucifixion before coming back to life. The extended story – the fifty-six paintings – ends on the ground floor.

Sala Superiore 1576-1581 big size    ceiling
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 Sala Superiore Scuola Grande di San Rocco Venice

Layout of the large hall on the first floor:

1.   Miracles copper snake
2.   Moses strikes water from the rocks
3.   Manna falling from heaven
4.   The fall of Adam and Eve
5.   God appears to Moses
6.   The fire columns
7.   Jonah leaves the fish
8.   Ezechiel’s vision
9.   The steps of Jacob
10. The Sacrifice of Isaac
11. Elisha multiplies bread
12. Elija fed by an angel
13. Easter of the Jews
  14. Vision of St. Jeremiah
15. Abraham and Melchizedek
16. Elija in the fiery chariot
17. Daniël saved from the lion’s pit
18. Samson gets water with the donkey jawbone
19. Samuel and Saul
20. Moses saved from the  waters
21. Three children in the furnace
22. Adoration of the Shepherds
23. Baptism of Christ
24. Resurrection of Christ
25. Christ in the Garden
26. Last Supper
  27. The Apparition of St. Roch
28. Miracle of the loves and Fishes
29. Raising of Lazzarus
30. Ascension of Christ
31. La Probatica Piscina
32. Temptation of Christ
33. St. Roch
34. St. Sebastian

The centre part was painted first, in 1576, ten years after the completion of the Sala dell’’Albergo. Precisely when Tintoretto was painting the central canvas (no. 1 on the map) from July to August 1576, the plague broke out again that same year in April. The canvas is about a bronze snake, a story from the Old Testament. This event was interpreted as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion of Christ. This can be read from evangelist John in chapter III: 14-15:

‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.’

 

Lifting the bronze snake big size

Tintoretto painted a jumble of bodies. Some have already heard to look at the bronze snake, but others have not. Nudes in all kinds of difficult poses. The typical influences of Michelangelo are also in this work obvious. Some characters are traceable to Ignudi in the Sistine Chapel (here to see on Web Gallery of Art) or the lying statues on the sarcophagi in the New Sacristy. This also applies to the turning of the angels that come flying with God the Father.

The vision of Ezekiel next to the Bronze Snake and opposite to Jacob’s Ladder and on the opposite wall the Assumption (see numbers 1, 9, 8 ceiling and 31 on the wall).

Vision of Ezekiel big size

Tintoretto ' Vision of Ezekiel' Scuola Grande di San Rocco Sala Superiore

The vision of Ezekiel was painted right next to the Resurrection of Christ and the Bronze Snake. What does this have to do with the resurrection of Christ and the bronze snake as prefiguration of the crucifixion? The lines in Ezekiel 37: 1 answers this question. The text is as follows:

‘The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

big size
Tintoretto ' Vision of Ezekiel' detail Scuola Grande di San Rocco Sala Superiore

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

This is how these paintings can be interpreted as a chronological Biblical story. Events from the Old Testament (bronze snake, vision of Ezekiel) are seen as a prefiguration of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.

In addition to paintings by Giorgione, Titian and Tiepolo, remarkable 17th century statues by Pianta can be seen in the large hall on the first floor. Strange carved figures can be seen on the wood panelling under the paintings. Some are missing arms and have weird attributes. Pianta explained these bizarre creatures on the right side at the entrance, so next to the top steps of the main staircase: he portrays Tintoretto, the character with all sorts of brushes in his hands. The symbol of curiosity is furthermore depicted: it is a spy wearing a large hat, whose head is tucked away into his jacket, leaving only his eyes visible. He spies, but does not want to be seen.

Francesco Pianta ‘Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto’
Francesco Pianta Jacopo Robusti Tintoretto Sala Superiore Scuola Grande di San Rocco

 

Francesco Pianta
war left    spy right  book case
Francesco Pianta 'war' 'spy' Sala Superiore Scuola grande di San Rocco

Sala Terrena

 

Sala Terrena ground floor big size
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 Sala Terrena Sculoa grande di San Rocco

Map ground Scuola Grande di San Rocco Sala dell Albergo

1. Annunciation
2. Adoration of the shepherds
3. Flight to Egypt
4. Massacre of the Innocents
  5. Mary Magdalene
6. Mary from Egypt
7. Presentation of Jesus in the temple
8. Assumption of the Virgin

The piece is close to the entrance. As you enter, you stand eye to eye with the Annunciation; it is the first piece you see. Instead of the beautiful, classical architecture, such as a balustrade, portico with columns as in the Annunciation by Titian, you will merely see a decrepit Venetian palazzo. You will immediately notice the broken column on a high basement, which is something that can also be seen in the Sala Terrena, just like the tiled floor. The ruin is also meant to indicate that the world is in a poor state and the Saviour has to bring salvation. The ceiling, the column on a high basement and the tiled floor also refer to the actual room the viewer is in. The light is also fit to the eastern window on the left in the sala terrene. All elements are painted in decline. Is this a specific reference to the appalling behaviour of the highly criticised board of the scuola? Caravia used his wit to criticise the façade, like this:

  capital and column
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 The investments in the poor are botched
In order to build, but not out of devotion
Columns that jut into the piazza. […]
They have spent 80,000 ducats when 6,000 would have
been enough.
The rest, which was spent in vain.
Could have been spent for the bare foot and naked who
cry ‘alas’: 
Quoted from Tom Nichols, ‘Tintoretto Tradition and Identity’, Reaktion Books, London, 1999 p. 149 151

So, as you enter you are met with this cheap and run-down column made of bricks (the current entrance is now changed). This decrepit column is an obvious statement against and a major contradiction to the façade with precious capitals and porphyry. The povertà is deliberately shown here. This concept has both a positive and negative meaning.

Tintoretto and Maarten van Heemskerck ‘Announcement’ big size
Announcement in the Sala Terrena  big size
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Tintoretto Announcement Sala terrena Scuole grande di San Rocco

Poverty is the ruined earth after the fall, so before the Lord returns to earth and redeems mankind. Tintoretto shows this in the ‘burnt’ landscapes in the Sala Superiore.

At the same time, poverty was seen as a positive thing in the 16th century (Counter Reformation): it testified simplicity and humility. The poverty of the holy family can clearly be seen in the next two paintings, the Worship and Flight into Egypt. Mary’s poverty is actually a sign of the fact that she is a devoted woman.

 Campo S. Giacomo dell’Orio big format    Youtube Campo (4.41 minutes)
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Campo S. Giacomo dall'Orio Venice

photo (big size): Verena

We walk back through the Campo S. Giacomo dall’’Orio, which I think is Venice’s coziest campo, to Ponte degli Scalzi and return back to the hotel.

To Day 3