District: San Polo
The decision to construct a large building destined to be the new seat of the Scuola goes back to 1499 and precedes by at least 25 years the effective signing of the sales contract for the required land.
Although the Confratelli had expressed the intention to acquire land at Castelforte, which was property of the parish of San Pantalon since 1507, the actual contract came to be signed in 1516. On July 8th, 1517, the Confraternity finalised an agreement with the Frati minori of the Frari for the buying of a section of the field in front of the old Scoletta, part of which was used as a cemetery. On the 11th of January 1517, Pietro Bon was hired as the overseer of construction and, in all likelihoodm had to conform to a project formulated by the directing body of the Scuola. It was a very traditional model, similar to other Venetian Scuole, consisting of two halls, one above the other, which were to make up the main body of the building. The Ground Floor Hall, divided into three aisles by two rows of columns, was accessible from the outside through the door onto the campo. From the hall, two doors gave access to two symmetrical arms of a staircase (scala “a tribunale”) whose landing which opens onto the upper hall, the site of processions and meetings of the Confratelli, is covered by a cupola In this hall, a door was opened to give access to the Sala dell’Albergo (Hall of the Hostel), the room used for meetings of the Banca e Zonta. This room was built over an arcade known as “dei Morti” which opened on the campo through a secondary door in the façade.
The laying of the first stone took place on the 25th of March, 1517, work began with the foundations to the north and by 1519 the walls of the Albergo had already been erected.
In 1520 disagreements arose between the overseer Bon and the “procuratori alla fabbrica” of the Scuola who had decided on raising the lower floor with high pedestals for the columns with the erection of an external plinth. This created great difficulties for the building of the staircase. The intervention of the Venti Savi and the Council of Ten’s nomination of a commission of overseers was necessary. However, this did not prevent a breakdown in relations with Pietro Bon. In 1523, the first version of the façade, with the Codussian mullioned windows, was completed.
The new overseer, Sante Lombardo, was nominated on June 3rd, 1524. It was his first assignment and he was employed with a double clause, that he would be assisted by his father, Tullio, and that he would be rigorously attentive to the proposals made by the Scuola. He completed roofing the Ground floor Hall and raised the second register of the East and North walls, sculpting and mounting most of the mullion windows, according to a model which partly recalls classical examples. Overcoming serious static difficulties, he completed the whole South façade which looks on to the canal, a genuine work of art which owed something to his father Tullio’s help.
The roofing of the Upper Hall and the Sala dell’Albergo was begun in 1527, when the Scuola decided to choose a new overseer, Antonio Abbondi, also known as lo Scarpagnino, who was then at the peak of his professional career and who is responsible for the present aspect of the building, with the two-fold decision to introduce the eight free columns on the facade and to adopt the model of the ‘imperial’ staircase. First of all Scarpagnino attended to the completion of the superior entablature, the consolidation of the portico on the canal and the foundations of the Albergo. In 1530 the roofing of the Sala dell’Albergo was completed, replacing the hollow tiles with a lead covering. In 1537 work was started on the windows of the upper floor, which have a more triumphal conception than Lombardo’s. The roofing of the Sala Capitolare was done between 1538 and 1539, whereas the lead covering, begun in 1541 was completed in December 1546. The most significant work for Scarpagnino was the completion of the façade on the campo with the five windows and the addition of eight free columns triumphantly detached from the façade plane, as in the ancient Roman arches and according to a ‘suggestion,’ apparently from Sansovino. Nevertheless the columns of San Rocco are original for the connections between the channelling which are closer to the Doric than the Corinthian, for the language of the capitals, for the small animals of the Medieval model that ornate the bases and, lastly, for the fascias that entwine the eight trunks and portray the vine, the lime tree, the olive tree and the oak. Finally, a very important duty for Scarpagnino involved the new ‘imperial’ staircase. It was necessary to take the Castelforte fund, which had finished the San Pantalon parish on January 2nd 1534, to demolish of the old ‘tribunal’ staircase of bricks and wood (which had been completed by Scarpagnino himself), and to create a wooden model which was made of a structure formed by two initial ramps covered by barrel vaults, a common landing and by a central superior ramp with barrel vaults which would reach the Sala Superiore. The model was adopted on June 21 1545, and the works were completed in 1550 under the supervision of Giangiacomo de’ Grigi, after Scarpagnino’s death in 1549.
The formal investiture of the new overseer took place in August of 1558, but his activity had already started a few years earlier with the restoration of the Albergo dei Masseri under the central ramp of the big staircase, the construction of two rooms for the archives, the sacred vestments above the inferior ramps of the staircase, the building of the altar in the Sala Terrena and the completion of all the roofing, in 1559. On September 9, 1560 Giangiacomo de’ Grigi left the building site which, at the time, was more or less completed.
Between 1587 and 1618 the altar in the Sala Superiore was built.
In the eighteenth century, Giorgio Fossati completed the raising of the Sala del Tesoro to the floor of the Scalone, clearly visible in the west facade looking on to Campo Castelforte.
Between 1882 and 1895 architect Pietro Saccardo rebuilt the floor of the Upper Hall and of the Sala dell’Albergo.
In 1990 a vast stone restoration campaign of all the external surfaces began and in 1990 the roofing of the Tesoro was transformed, using hollow tiles made of lead slabs.
For more details on the history of the construction of the Scuola Grande, see Gianmario Guidarelli’s: “Una giogia ligata in piombo”: la fabbrica della Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venezia, 1517-1560, Quaderni della Scuola Grande Arciconfraternita di San Rocco, N. 8, Venice 2002.
The Ground Floor Hall presents three aisles with small columns with octagonal pedestals; the ceiling is made of beams in the manner of many Venetian Scuole. On the right wall there is a corridor which is connected to the “portico delle arche”, so called because of the ten gravestones laid in 1528. In the Hall, the first door gives access to the Sala del Guardian da Matin, surrounded by altar frontals and eighteenth century wardrobes; above the Sala there are mezzanine rooms which host the Scrigni and are characterised by heavily barred windows.
On the right side of the Hall, between the two elegant portals of the Scalone there is the door of the Albergo dei Masseri where several eighteenth century wardrobes are located.
On the back wall there is the sixteenth century altar. Near the entrance, a headstone commemorates Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Scuola in 1782. On the other two walls, in the middle of the Hall, two headstones are dedicated to the honorary Confratelli who were called to the papal throne, Beato Giovanni XXIII and Giovanni Paolo I.
The Scalone, with barrel vaults on the two lower, separate and parallel ramps and on the second central ramp, ends with a dome and gives access to the Upper Hall through a magnificent portal of six columns, where a double arch is set, whose pedestals have six reliefs which refer to episodes from the Old Testament with garlands engraved in the decorations.
More solemn and monumental, the Upper Hall, was the meeting place of the Capitolo della Scuola. The end wall is occupied entirely by the Presbytery and the Altar. Between here and the Scalone, a small door gives access to the Sala della Cancelleria – still used for the meetings of the management of the Archconfraternity – it connects to the small room of the Archive.
The entrance to the Treasury is on the right wall, after the Scalone.
The Upper Hall gives direct access to the Sala dell’Albergo, the meeting place of the Banca e Zonta. From the big bar and the wooden altar frontals constitute the furniture of this room which, once a year, usually hosts the Convocato Generale of the Confratelli and Consorelle.