We walk from the hotel and via the Campo Margherita to the scuola Santa Maria dei Carmini.
Next to the main church of the carmelites, the Santa Maria dei Carmini, this scuola was constructed. The building was designed in 1670 by Baldassare Longhena, but was completed by another developer. Longhena did oversee the completion of the ‘beautiful staircase’.
The first floor has the famous Sala del Capitolo with nine ceiling pieces by Tiepolo, which honours the holy Simon Stock. Tiepolo received the assignment for these ceiling frescos on 21 December 1739. Tiepolo’s style and colour use make him a typical rococo painter.
Ceiling of the Sala del Capitolo
Just as in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, there are mirrors for you to view the ceiling frescos without getting a stiff neck.
The whole is comprised of nine paintings: the central ceiling fresco where St. Simon is given the scapular with a grave below him.
Four adjacent paintings:
1. Angel carrying the book of the Scuola
2. Angel showing the scapular to the people in purgatory
3. Angel with lilies who is given the scapular by a putti
4. Angel saving a worker who is falling down a scaffold
photos: Didier Descounes and Sailko
The four corner paintings with the virtues:
1. Theological: Faith (cross and cup), Hope (anchor), Charity
2. Justice (Sword) and Courage (Ionic Column)
3. Caution (snake), purity Temperance (pours water with wine)
4. Penance, humility and truth
Tiepolo also made a sketch for the central canvas that can now be seen in the Louvre. In this , Mary looks at Stock, while in the final version she is instead looking at the spectator.
Simon Stock receives the scapular in the large centre-most ceiling piece: two white pieces of fabric that are worn across the shoulder affixed with strings (scapular = shoulder). Simon founded the third order of the Carmelites in the 13th century. He founded monasteries in Cambridge, Oxford, Paris and Bologna. The ceiling of the Sala del Capitolo was relatively low, but the sharp bottom view makes it look optically larger. You are inside Purgatory, as it were, looking up: di sotto in sù. That’s when the beam at the top left of the image plane is noticeable. The beam shows legs and a part of the body. Simon is given the scapular because he was driven out of the holy land and revived the order in Europe. Simon is kneeled, an angel drapes the scapular over him from behind. Underneath Simon, at the bottom right, are figures that are in purgatory. According to the Carmelites, the one who wears the scapular will spend considerable less time in purgatory. A papal bull from 1322 confirmed this belief. This idea became very popular again during the Counter-Reformation.
Originally, the first floor only held a painting by Padovanino: the Assumption of Mary. The board complained that there was so little art available even with the scuola having so many members. Something had to be done. They turned to Giambattista Tiepolo. At that time, he was the foremost painter in La Serenissima. Tiepolo had just painted the frescos in the Gesuati, also known as the Santa Maria del Rosario: a gigantic ceiling of 1200 x 450 cm.
Tiepolo was swamped with so many assignments that he hesitated a while when this request reached him. Almost one year later, in 1740, he finally agreed to do it. He produced two designs for the scuola members to choose from. However, the ceiling did need to be renewed to accommodate it. This meant that the ‘Assumption of Mary’ by Padovanino had to be removed. The members were far from pleased, but it did eventually happen. The members opted for Tiepolo’s second design. Tiepolo committed himself to finish the central panel in 1740 just before Christmas, but when the hall opened in 1743 and the woodwork and gilding were all but done, the central painting wasn’t. It would take until 1749 for it to be complete. Documents from this scuola reveal that the frame maker and woodworker, Zanetti, had already completed his work based on Tiepolo’s design. Despite the delay, members of the scuola were very happy. Indeed, the Carmelites were so impressed by the eventual artwork that they proclaimed Tiepolo as their honorary brother.
The small chapter room that borders the large hall shows magnificent woodwork. This hall, where the scuola’s board took important decisions, has been well preserved.
Right around the corner, just a few steps away, we’re already at the church belonging to the same order.
The Santa Maria dei Carmini
We take the side entrance to view two altarpieces.
The 14th century Santa Maria dei Carmini church has a rather special interior. The marble columns are sometimes lined with expensive red fabric while the arches have rich decorations and boast many wooden, gilded sculptures. This church also has a number of striking artworks.
The aisles have two paintings to the left and right, exactly where they were originally painted.
The north side has an altarpiece by Lotto: ‘St. Nicholas in Glory’ The frame lists the year 1527 and the name of the painter. The painting was commissioned by the Scuola dei Mercanti. The traders of this scuola had St. Nicholas as their patron saint. The three gold balls refer to the story about Nicholas before he became a bishop. The story is about him throwing gold through windows. That way the three daughters could still afford to have a good marriage. After all, they lacked the money for a dowry. Later on, the gold balls were interpreted as bread and thus Nicholas became the patron saint for bakers.
The two main clients are: Giovanni Battist Donati and Giorgio de’ Mundis. Their names are on the frame. The name saints: St. John and St. George by Donati and de’Mundis are also depicted. John to the left below St. Nicholas and St. George in the landscape right below the image. The frontal and unnatural looking posture of St. Nicholas seems a bit old fashioned for the period in which it was painted, circa 1528. Lotto painted it after an old wooden sculpture of St. Nicholas, with this painting replacing it.
The divide of the artwork: at the top ‘St. Nicholas who is carried to heaven’ and at the bottom the landscape, is based on the Assumption of Mary by Titian from 1518 in the Frari church. The bottom, the landscape and the top are iconographically connected. What’s completely new for Venice is the landscape from a bird’s eye perspective.
St. Nicholas intervened during hunger and was the patron saint of sailors. Hence the ships and the landscape used in this altarpiece. The baskets on donkeys who carry grain to the ships refer to the legend where St. Nicholas miraculously prevented famine. In the East, there was not a single ship after the 10th century who disembarked without an icon of St. Nicholas. The dead and living tree in the centre represent the power of Nicholas to resurrect the dead. This mostly pertained to the sailors.
The setting of the landscape is very reminiscent of Flemish painters. Presumably this painting even used a painting by Patinir’s ‘Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styxas‘ a model . Patinir was in Venice right when Lotto painted his altarpiece for the Santa Carmini. What we do know is that Lotto used one of Dürer’s wood carvings: ‘Michael fights the Dragon‘.
The brotherhood who commissioned this altarpiece owned a few stores at the Rialto. Their goods and profits came through the sea. This explains their choice for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and the dock in the landscape. The members of the brotherhood said the following prayer when kneeled in front of the altar:
‘God and St. Nicholas, protect and save our fleet and ships of this city out on the open sea, and all those on deck, and return them to us safely.’
Across from this Lotto and behind the altar we can see another famous work by Cima da Conegliano from 1510, titled: ‘Adoration of the shepherds’.
The merchant Giovanni Calvo commissioned the young and modern painter Conegliano to paint an adoration of the shepherds and he too had to be in the painting. The canvas shows St. Catharine with a broken wheel at her feet and St. Helena with a cross. To the right is archangel Raphaël with young Tobias at his side. According to the legend, God ordered the archangel Raphaël to accompany young Tobias during his travels. Tobias has a dog as attribute. Peter stands next to Mary. The merchant Giovanni Calvo, who commissioned this piece, is seen on the artwork as well as a simple shepherd. Still, the shoes he is wearing do not match his status.
What is new is the iconographic freedom used by the young generation of artists. The shepherd is a portrait of the client. Calvo decided that St. Catherine had to be depicted, as his wife Catharine was named after this Saint. Calvo’s wife died in 1508 due to the plague. Calvo was afraid he’d follow suit. In any case, he wanted to at least ensure salvation of his soul. That is why Raphaël is added to the scene. This is now highly unlikely: an archangel in this context. Raphaël was chosen as Calvo’s patron. The angel guides Tobias out of the dark and gestures him not to look at the Child, but instead up to the cross that Helena is wearing. The background also shows some shepherds. Calvo is again depicted near the path that leads to the trough and the cross.