Founded in 1478, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco became the richest and largest of the Venetian scuole, religious confraternities that functioned simultaneously as charitable organizations, mutual aid societies, and social clubs. Much of the city’s greatest Renaissance and Baroque artwork was commissioned by the leadership for the confraternities and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was no exception. In keeping with a tradition of artistic patronage, in 1564 the Scuola San Rocco awarded a commission to Tintoretto for paintings to be included in a ceiling within the scuola building, which had been completed 15 years earlier. Tintoretto, a native Venetian, parlayed the single assignment into a series of paintings for the entire scuola, ultimately completing more than 50 paintings for the confraternity over the course of his lifetime. The works, depicting episodes from the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, are considered among Tintoretto’s finest.
How We Helped
Though Tintoretto’s paintings at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco have long been appreciated as works of high quality, when WMF began conservation work at the site, the paintings were in poor condition. As early as the 1850s, the English critic John Ruskin had complained of paintings "hanging down in ragged fragments" from the ceiling of the San Rocco scuola, and yet the damaging combination of soot, dust, and water remained untreated until WMF began work there in 1969. Cleaning the canvases to remove coatings of accumulated dirt and smoke that obfuscated the original paintings, WMF restored 38 works to something close to their original state. Conservation efforts also included construction of new supports for the framework, damaged from exposure to humidity.
Why It Matters
The Tintoretto paintings at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco are among the most respected works by the Italian master, and their restoration represents a significant accomplishment for WMF and an opportunity for scholars of the Renaissance and Venetian history to understand more fully the artistic practices and achievements of the period. WMF’s work allows audiences to enjoy the paintings in their restored form and enables the visitor to understand the way in which the building, its rooms, and artistic treasures all work together. The high priority for the project also reflects the unique character of the context; unlike many other works commissioned for local confraternities, the Tintoretto paintings, made by a Venetian painter for a Venetian institution, remain in their original setting, largely untouched since the time of their creation.