The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista is among the oldest and most prominent of the Venetian scuole, religious confraternities that sponsored acts of charity and were ultimately responsible for much of the city’s greatest Renaissance and Baroque artwork. The Scuola San Giovanni, established in 1261, derived its stature from both the significance of its religious artifacts (beginning in 1369 the scuola housed a fragment of the True Cross) and the quality of the art and architecture found within its building. The building was renovated in the 15th century, when the institution commissioned the architect Mauro Codussi (also known as Coducci) to construct a double staircase for the scuola, and Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio contributed to a series of paintings describing the True Cross. In the 18th century, the building underwent renovation, this time with portions of the Sala Maggiore remodeled to improve lighting. In 1806 Napoleon abolished all Venetian scuole, removed much of the sculpture and paintings housed within the Scuola San Giovanni, and appropriated the institution’s Holy Relic. The artifact was eventually returned to a nearby church, and the scuola reopened in 1929.
How We Helped
WMF’s ten-year conservation effort at San Giovanni Evangelista began in 1969, and constituted the first and largest undertaking of the organization’s Venice Committee. Early restoration at the site required repair of the building’s roof, strengthening of its walls, and analysis of its foundations, in order to ensure against the structure’s collapse into a neighboring canal. Later, WMF oversaw efforts to mitigate water damage and prevent further erosion from water infiltration; water and salt, which had for years seeped into the building, threatened its structural integrity and its artwork. Subsequent efforts included the conservation of entrance hall flooring, including work on both foundations and surface-level marble. Conservators also restored ground-floor wooden ceiling beams, cleaned the walls in the Sala Maggiore and repaired its carved marble mosaic floor, restored parts of Mauro Codussi’s staircase, re-chiseled staircase handrails and moldings, and installed new electrical wiring for the building.
Why It Matters
The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista embodies a long Venetian tradition of blended religious, secular, and civic interests all aimed at the betterment of the lives of the citizens of Venice. The confraternity commissioned works of art to signify the importance of its work and the accomplishments of the order, which resulted in one of the city’s great artistic and architectural achievements. WMF’s work to conserve the site reflect San Giovanni’s importance as an historic place and a repository for significant Venetian art and architecture dating from the 14th century. As a result of the completion of the conservation efforts and the support of the Archconfraternity of San Giovanni Evangelista, the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista now hosts a variety of cultural events, and its conserved architectural and decorative treasures are open to the public.