Venice is famous for its Scuole, the “homes” of not-for-profit confraternities (guilds) that existed to support schools, hospitals, orphanages, poorhouses, and the like. They were primarily founded by specific trades or professions. Often, they closely co-located with a church, and often funded specific chapels or other functional spaces within the adjoining church.
Many of the scuole were made government controlled operations under the Napoleonic administration in the early 1800’s, through a policy that dispensing such services should be publicly controlled to avoid conflicts of interest, wasteful overlapping of services, and discrimination (otherwise known as government seizure and control, or simply in order to seize rich assets of art and valuable libraries, in many cases). Others remained as they had begun, not social services-oriented or trade education guilds, but working to advance the benevolent activities of the church in the community.
Eventually (pre-Napoleon) there were six Scuole Grande (the richest, most powerful and ostensibly most benevolent) and a total of about 920 Scuole Piccolo (smaller, and not all in existence at one time!), many without “home” buildings, and occasionally several of the same “type” scattered around the City.
Two “Piccolo” establishments were later elevated to Scuole Grande – San Todaro next to San Salvador (mercers and allied crafts including makers of gloves, hats, mirrors, stationary, luxury goods, and the source of the Merceri); and, Santa Maria del Carmine (founded in 1594 and “elevated” to Grande in 1767). San Girolamo east of San Fantin had another scuola piccolo that was not elevated, but ranked with the above two at the top of the Piccolo group.
No, the ranking process was not like the NCAA’s for American college sports!
Arsenalotti crafts (those followed within the Arsenale shipyards) supported a number of scuole piccola, including but not limited to the ropemakers, caulkers, sawyers, stonemasons, carpenters, bakers, painters, sail or oar makers and builders.
Again, locations varied widely, such as that for the mercers and cabinet-makers between San Marco and the Rialto, silk artisans near Ss. Apostoli, goldsmiths and spice dealers in the Rialto, shoemakers (calegheri) at San Toma, tanners at Santa Margherita (in the lonely free-standing building at south-central constructed when the Carmini needed more land to expand their monastery, goldbeaters at San Stae, woolworkers at San Stefano, builders at San Samuele, and painters at Santa Sofia.
The elite Scuole Grande best known today are Scuola Grande Archiconfraternita San Rocco (founded in 1485, located behind the Frari across from its own church, San Rocco) for its extraordinary riches of art, Scuola Grande di San Marco (at Zanipaolo – not at San Marco), now the entrance lobby for the City hospital, and Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelistica (in western Sestiere San Polo) with its beautifully enclosed courtyard and modern conference center.
Far plainer and less-well maintained scuole will draw your attention around Venice, although few are well-maintained or open to visitors. Our favorite (so far!) is Sculoa Grande San Rocco where Old Testament stories are portrayed in murals painted by Tintoretto on the walls of the grand hall upstairs, while the prophecy fulfilling New Testament stories are displayed in even more great works of Tintoretto on the ceiling above.
Their website, http://www.scuolagrandesanrocco.it/inglese/index_ita.htm is quite informative! When you visit, you may want to rent a mirror to view the ceiling array… backwards…
If your neck is stiffer than your recollection of the lessons they portray!