This Scuola was built on ground that was relinquished by the Franciscans of the Frari church. For a good summary of the painting cycle with accurate images painted by Tintoretto in this Scuola: click [here] for the Web Gallery of Art, Wikipedia with many images or the official site of this Scuola.
A Scuola is, as you have learned, an organization of the laity from a certain group or guild. The members joined together in a building to do penance and pray. The middle class did not have any political influence, the only place to express themselves was in their Scuola. A few Scuola had their own church and their own building like the San Rocco. The laity had their building, of which they were very proud, be decorated by artists. Almost every grand Venetian painter, sculptor and architect were given important orders by the laity. A journey along the famous Scuola means a tour along famous pieces of art.
This scuola was founded in the honour of the Saint Roch (San Rocco) as a charity for the ill. The construction was started in 1515 by Bartolomeo Bon. The money was raised by those Venetians who were spared by the plague. Roch was the saint of those Venetians. If we were to believe the hagiography about Roch, he has lived an extraordinary life. At the age of twenty Roch gave away all his possessions and went on pilgrimage. On his way to Rome he takes care of people who suffer from the plague. At Piacenza he gets infected with the disease himself, his dog brings him bread
“And a little while after Gotard, and his fellows, for certain necessities and errands, returned into Piacenza and left that time St. Rocke alone in the valley. And St. Rocke made his prayers to Almighty God that he might be delivered from the wounds of pestilence, and in this prayer he fell asleep. And in the meanwhile returned Gotard from the city, and when he came and joined him to Rocke sleeping, he heard the voice of an angel saying: O Rocke, friend of God, our Lord hath heard thy prayers, lo, thou art delivered from the pestilence, and art made all whole, and our Lord commandeth that thou take the way toward thy country.”
Source: The Golden Legend ‘Life of St. Roch’
The disease leaves scars on the body of the survivors. Roch wasn’t trusted in his hometown, because of those scars. He gets thrown in jail. He dies, but God engraves a message in the wall of his cell. Roch is appointed as plague caretaker. Roch’ bones are stolen from Montpellier and brought to Venice. His tomb is in de church of San Rocco and The scuola owns a relic of Saint Roch, a finger of him. This very fancy silver and gold reliquary at the Scuola Grande and is only displayed on a few occasions.
This scuola, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, mainly displays works by Tintoretto, as many as fifty-six paintings. The building was completed between 1515 and 1560 by Bartholomeo Bon and Antonio Abbondi. The adjacent church, the San Rocco, offers a good map of this scuola, accurately indicating which paintings can be found where. The entire cycle of paintings reads like a comic. The story begins in the small hall on the first floor. So after we enter the scuola, we go up the stairs, through the big hall into the small hall: the Sala dell’’Albergo.
Jacopo Robusti was born in 1518, as the son of a dyer, hence his nickname Tintoretto, or little dyer. In the year of the birth of Tintoretto, Titian was working on the Assumption of the Virgin, behind the main alter in the Frari –church. Tintoretto spent a short while as an apprentice of Titian, but if the story is true, Titian hastily got rid of him. Titian immediately saw the enormous talent of the young boy and kicked him out on the first day, since he did not want any competition. Titian is an entirely different painter than Tintoretto. Titian was worldly, found himself at various imperial courts, while Tintoretto, as it seems, only left Venice once, when he had to deliver a series of paintings in Mantua. While Titian sold well and lived in opulence, Tintoretto was a man who often painted for free. He was so religious that he often offered churches and scuola to work free of charge. Titian and Tintoretto come from generations that have undergone a different history. Under Titian, Venice was at its peak. The city was enormously rich and the Renaissance prevailed, in which the good life played an important role.
During the life of Tintoretto, La Serenissima started began her demise. The Counter-Reformation also became more prominent. The battle against Lutheranism and Calvinism by the Catholics was fought through fire and steel. Tintoretto’s work is heavily influenced by religious fervour and mysticism. Their works show two sides of the Venetian school.
In 1564, the brotherhood of the scuola Grande di San Rocco called upon painters to create a design for the middle part of the ceiling of the new chapter house (Sala dell’Albergo). Veronese, Salviati and Zuccari went to work. Tintoretto decided to draw a painting of the St. Roch in full glory on the ceiling, with large brush strokes in his usual quick way. Of course he did this secretly, and he made sure it was properly covered up. On the day of assessment, the artists showed their designs in the chapter house. Once everyone looked at the little dyer, he merely pulled a rope, unveiling the fully completed painting to everyone. Great tumult broke out: this was not fair, but the decision was in favour of Tintoretto, since he was commissioned to make a huge cycle of paintings.
At the reproaches of some brothers of the scuola about not having complied to the agreements, Tintoretto replied according to Vasari:
‘This is my way of drawing. I know no other way and a model has to be made so that it would deceive no one. And I do not want money for the work or the materials.’
Tintoretto was willing to do almost anything to get assignments. He often offered to paint in any desired style. If Tintoretto caught wind of someone else possibly getting an assignment, he would offer to do it for less money and paint it in the same style. He would sometimes even do it free of charge.
Tintoretto completed the ceiling of the Sala dell’ Albergo in the summer and autumn of that same year: 1564 ( Ceiling pictures: Wikipedia ). The four seasons are pictured in the corners in the small tondi. Also, John the Evangelist or St. Mark are visible. The other scuola, such as the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista, Scuola di San Marco, Scuola della Misericordia, Scuola Theodorus and the Scuola della Carità are also painted on the ceiling as allegorical figures. The figures depicted, including women, represent good luck or faith. These figures reveal the profound influence Michelangelo had on Tintoretto’s art.
After the ceiling, Tintoretto painted ‘Crucifixion’ in 1565: a gigantic canvas that measures 536 x 1224 cm, covering the entire back. This work is first painted on the walls of this room. It is the climax of the other wall paintings.
Tintoretto prepared himself well. He made drawings and sketched a number of characters (Uffizi, Victoria and Albert museum London and Museum Boymans van Beuningen). He also directly drew the main outline of the composition on the canvas. Quite unlike Giorgione’s, ‘The Tempest’, who worked directly on the canvas, but this is unavoidable in such a composition with that many characters.
Big, strong diagonals pierce the body of Christ. The eyes are immediately drawn to the isolated, lonely Christ. It is a very dynamic painting: crowded but still very legible. Tintoretto achieved this by carefully work with light and dark: chiaroscuro. A light that seems to come more out of the objects themselves, even though shadows appear and the light comes from the right. The wind blows from left to right, as can be deduced from the trees and the flag.
If you read the story in the Gospels (Matthew 27 : 33, Mark 15 : 25, Luke 23 : 32 or John 19 : 28), the dice playing for Christ’s clothes returns, as well as the man who wants to press vinegar into the wounds with a sponge. The lonely Christ is completely isolated in the crowd. Threatening dark clouds are hanging above him. Only the characters below, at the cross, are torn by the event. John looks up at Christ with admiration. Tintoretto himself is only watching as a spectator.
The figures in the painting are notable for their emotional expressiveness, with each one conveying a different aspect of grief and sorrow at the crucifixion of Christ. In the “Crucifixion,” the surrounding figures include the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, and other figures. The Virgin Mary is depicted in a swoon, her body supported by several figures. Saint John the Evangelist is looking up at the crucified Christ. Mary Magdalene is shown kneeling at the foot of the cross, holding onto it as she looks up at Christ.
Other figures in the painting include Roman soldiers, who are depicted in the background, casting lots for Christ’s garments. There are also several figures in the foreground, including a group of mourners dressed in contemporary Venetian clothing. One of these mourners is thought to be a self-portrait of Tintoretto.
During the last restoration it came to light that this was Tintoretto’s work method for all of his paintings in this scuola. Furthermore, a folded piece of the edge was discovered under the ceiling. This means that this part has been in the dark for centuries, so the original colours are still visible.
The Crucifixion is dated and signed on a marble pedestal at the very bottom left of the picture plane. Tintoretto received 250 ducats for this work. This gigantic canvas immediately received enormous appreciation from contemporaries. So much so that a cardinal Ferdinando (a Medici) commissioned the artist Agostino Carracci (Welcome Collection) twelve years after its completion (Tintoretto was still alive) to make an engraving of it. Rubens and Van Dyck have made the necessary study drawings of the Crucifixion.