Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista

SCUOLA GRANDE DI SAN GIOVANNI EVANGELISTA

The Scuola Grande di San Giovani Evangelista was founded in 1261 in the church of San Aponal (Venice), near Rialto. In 1307 it was moved to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista and in 1340 it rented some rooms in the near hospice founded by the Badoer family. The Scuola became famous in 1369 when the Confraternity’s “Guardian Grande” received the Relic of the Cross as a present by Filippo de Merzieres, Great Chancellor of the Kingdom of Cyprus and Jerusalem. Many paintings of the time are dedicated to this precious relic. Gentile Bellini’s ones, which are now kept in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, used to decorate the walls of the Oratorio della Croce (Oratory of the Cross), on the first floor. They depict the Procession of the Relic of the Cross in St. Mark’s square and the miracle occurred on the 25th of April 1444 when the dying son of a merchant was healed. Another canvas shows the miracle of the Cross: it had fallen into the San Lorenzo canal and the only one who managed to salvage it was the Guardian Grande Andrea Vendramin.The Scuola Grand di San Giovanni Evangelista was enlarged in the 15th century: the marble portal surmounted by a lunette was concluded on Bartolomeo Bon’s project, and between 1478 and 1481 Pietro Lombardo made his magnificent Renaissance marble portal topped by a cross to remind the relic treasured inside. In 1512 the building was renovated by Mauro Codussi who made a new façade and built the monumental staircase. Following the suppression of the beginning of the 19th century due to the Napoleonic laws, the Scuola seemed bound to be destroyed when the Austrian government decided that the wonderful marble floor would be entirely removed and taken to some other church o palace. In order to counter this decision, the Venetians organized a committee and raised the money necessary to buy the building, saving it from its fate and donating it to the world of art.

Indeed the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista was restored by the Società delle Arti Edificatorie (Society of building arts). Inside, the ground-floor hall is a large 15th century room divided into two aisles by columns. The monumental staircase (“Scalone”) to the right, a magnificent Renaissance work by Mauro Codussi, takes upstairs. The general sumptuousness and the arched ceiling offer an idea of the original magnificence of this place. The wonderful Salone superiore boasts a beautiful inlaid floor andat the time it was decorated with marvellous canvases by Jacopo Bellini, which are now missing. In 1787 the interior was renovated by Giorgio Massari. The walls are now decorated with paintings depicting Scenes of St. John the Evangelist’s life by Tintoretto, Sante Veranda and Andrea Vicentino; the Adoration of the Magi attributed to Pietro Longhi; and the Nativity by Antonio Balestra. The ceiling is divided into large areas where “Scenes of the Apocalypse” have been represented by various 18th century artists. To the right of the altar the Sala del Vecchio Archivio boasts a ceiling  decorated with white and coloured stuccoes and 17th century frescoes by Guaranà depicting the “Glory of St. John the Evangelist”, while the wall in front of the altar leads to the Sala della Croce where the precious Relic of the Cross is kept together with the wooden pole used to procession the shrine surmounted by a gold and laquered wood canopy with the image of the eagle, symbol of the confraternity.