The Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista as a confraternity was founded in 1261 in the church of Sant’Aponal (Sant’Apollinare). In 1301 they moved to San Stin (Saint Stefano Confessore) District, and rented some premises from the Badoer family that were situated on the top floor of a hospice for elderly poor people, adjacent to the church. The Scuola (Confraternity) was also able to perform their religious rituals within the church.
The rented premises were subjected to much restoration work; the two inscriptions placed under the relief in the ‘Campiello’ (Square) of the Scuola, which depicts the brotherhood kneeling down in front of San Giovanni (Saint John), indicate that the work had been started in 1349 and finished in 1354.
During the 15th Century the Scuola had increased in importance thanks to a donation in 1369 by Philippe de Mezières – chancellor of the Kingdom of Cyprus – of the ‘Relic of the Cross’. Therefore, they decided to purchase not only the rented premises from the Badoer family but also the hospice and they carried out reconstruction work (1414 – 1420) in order to obtain a centre more appropriate to their increased requirements. For the ‘Relic of the Cross’ a precious gothic shrine of rock crystal and gilt sliver was built (Reliquary Cross).
Two pictorial cycles were commissioned in 1420 to Jacopo Bellini, but they had a very short life; they in fact went to ruin and in the last decade of the Century, Gentile Bellini, son of Jacopo, and his collaborators began the “Miracoli della Reliquia della Croce” (Miracles of the Cross) assigned to replace the previous works.
In 1454 the building of the Scuola was enriched with a gothic-style lateral facade and, with works spanning from 1478 to 1481, also of the Septo Marmoreo (Marble Septum) in the courtyard entrance by Pietro Lombardo. The portal is surmounted from a great rear arch with the Eagle – symbol of San Giovanni Evangelista.
In 1498, the Assembly of the Scuola decided to build a new staircase and, for its design and construction, Mauro Codussi was called. In first forty years of the 16th Century, the Albergo was completed with benches of carved wood and bas-relief; in those same years, Tiziano and his ‘bottega’ (workshop) completed a series of paintings for its ceiling. The “Visione di San Giovanni Evangelista” (Saint John in Patmos) is now in Washington while the works of the bottega (cherubs, grotesque, symbols of the Evangelist) are conserved at the ‘Gallerie dell’Accademia’.
At the end of the Century, Jacopo Palma il Giovane was in charge of executing four great “Episodi dell’Apocalisse” (Stories of the Apocalypse) to cover the walls of the Sala dell’Albergo (The ‘Albergo’).
In the 17th Century few restoration works were carried out within the Scuola, whereas, in the successive century, thanks to a profitable donation, new jobs were undertaken involving the top floor of the building: beginning in 1727, the architect Giorgio Massari performed the restoration of the Sala dell’Albergo and raised the ceiling of the Salone di San Giovanni (also known as the ‘Sala Capitolare’) by five metres. He completely rebuilt the supporting walls and created twelve large oval windows to give light to the environment. Also in those years, the great statue of San Giovanni Evangelista, placed on the altar of the Sala Capitolare, was commissioned to the sculptor Giovanni Maria Morlaiter (1732-1733). We must give credit to Massari for the magnificent coloured marble floor within the hall, an absolute masterpiece installed in 1752. Also the ‘Oratory of the Cross’ had some restoration work. In 1761 Giuseppe Angeli painted the ceiling’s central canvas.
A few years later, on 12 May 1797, the millenarian Republic of Venice ended. With a Napoleonic decree on 25 April 1806, the Scuola was withdrawn and its patrimony partly sold. The buildings were reduced to warehouses and federal properties. The great paintings of the’ Oratory’ representing the ‘Miracles of the Cross’, by Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and others, were placed under compulsory purchase, entrusted to the State, fortunately they remained in Venice and today can be seen at the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
When Austrian rule succeed the French, plans had been made to demolish the School’s buildings and the flooring of the Salone di San Giovanni was believed to have been transported to Austria. Fortunately in 1856, Gaspare Biondetti Crovato of Friuli, a building constructor, with the aid of a group of Venetian citizens gathered the necessary funds and acquired the Scuola from Austrian Federal property.
Constituted at the Scuola was a mutual aid corporation for construction workers whose aims were: to restore and maintain the School’s buildings; to help associates in difficulty; and to re-establish the scope of the confraternity from the previous centuries. From then on, the confraternity resumed its activities. Beyond the mutual aid associates of the Scuola, others were subsequently admitted as members so as to join the purposes of the confraternity.
In 1931 the School was elevated to an arciconfraternita (arch confraternity) by Pope Pius XI.
By Napoleonic decree, the Reliquary Cross would have been destroyed, but was redeemed by the Guardian Grande at the time, Giovanni Andrighetti. His successors returned the Reliquary Cross to the Scuola through the Patriarch of Venice.
The history of the past, the works of art, the architecture, and the mission of the Scuola have recently been compiled into a detailed guide by Chiara Vazzoler, Marsilio publishers.
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