The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice: not exactly a museum, but not exactly NOT a museum

The facade is not ugly
The facade is not ugly, image via wikimedia commons

I like visiting Renaissance paintings in their original locations. I like it when altarpieces are still on altars, frescoes are still on chapel walls, and ceiling paintings are on their original ceilings. I like it better than visiting paintings in museums; call me crazy, but I like the context. So, when in Venice I strongly suggest you take the opportunity to visit the Scuola Grande di San Rocco because there you will see a ton of ridiculous Renaissance stuff in its ridiculous Renaissance original setting.

fast and loose make it fun image via wikimedia commons
fast and loose make it fun! image via wikimedia commons

And did I mention the Tintorettos? All the glorious Tintorettos that still hang in the same spots (EVERYWHERE, covering the entire interior) nearly 500 years later? The Tintorettos WIN.

all by myself, don't wanna be alll by myseeeeelf (except when looking at Tintorettos, when alone time is totally appreciated) image via consulpress.eu
all by myself, don’t wanna be alll by myseeeeelf (except when looking at Tintorettos, when alone time is totally appreciated) image via consulpress.eu

Scuole Grandi are sort of confusing things, because while organizations like them (charitable/religious organizations that were supposed to be for lay-people) existed pretty much everywhere in Italy, only in Venice (and possibly elsewhere in the Veneto) were they called Great Schools. So you don’t go to the Scuola Grande di San Whoever in Florence, because that doesn’t exist. I think this weird little complication tends to keep the Scuola Grande di San Rocco off of visitor’s radars. And actually the Galleria Accademia is partly housed in a former Scuola Grande. So, most people don’t know what a Scuola Grande is, and maybe in this case they haven’t really heard of Tintoretto, so they don’t know why they should bother visiting. It’s not really a church, it’s not really a museum, so what is it? I like to think of them as clubhouses and this clubhouse is particularly spectacular because of all the freaking Tintorettos.

grand staircase with more Tintorettos? CHECK (image via disfrutavenecia.com)
grand staircase with more Tintorettos? CHECK (image via disfrutavenecia.com)

There are a lot of reasons why Tintoretto (despite his insanely prolific output) is now less famous than Titian. I’m not going to get into all that. But I will say that I am REALLY into Tintoretto’s loose, rough brushwork, And if I’m honest, it was a senior undergrad project on Tintoretto which partly propelled me into grad school, so I damn him and thank him at the same time.

San Rocco or St. Roch, the titular plague saint. Not bad Tintoretto, not bad. image via wga.hu
San Rocco or St. Roch, the titular plague saint. Not bad Tintoretto, not bad. image via wga.hu

But the best part of visiting the Scuola Grande di San Rocco? They’ll give you a mirror to look in to see the ceiling paintings and it’s entirely possible (this has happened to me twice) that you’ll get the upstairs room (the sala superiore) all to yourself. Just you and all the writing, wriggling Tintoretto-y goodness.

ps- They’re a bit fierce about photo-taking, so I was never able to sneak any of my own, but hopefully these give you a good sense that this place is NOT UGLY and is in many ways better than a museum.

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6 thoughts on “The Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice: not exactly a museum, but not exactly NOT a museum

  1. Museums are boring for me, but in Italia, even more so when you have so many opportunities to see art in their original location. I haven’t been to Tintoretto, but I cannot imagine, for example, The Last Supper or The Sistine Chapel moved to another place and having the same impact…when I go back to Venezia I’ll have to check out Tintoretto!

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