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The School | The Building Complex

The Building Complex of the San Giovanni Evangelista

The Building Complex of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista is the result of a centennial series of architectural and decorative interventions. Beginning as a small mid-fourteenth century building, the confraternity gradually extended it as their economic and religious importance increased. The first extension to the School followed the acquisition, in 1369, of the prestigious relic of the Cross of Jesus then, during the fifteenth century, the campus was extended by the addition of an external archway by Pietro Lombardo and the Scalone Monumentale (great staircase): noble access to the Sala Capitolare (Chapter Room) by Mauro Codussi, a great architect from the Venetian early Renaissance. At the end of the century, a grandiose series of "teleri" (i.e. paintings on large canvases, mounted on frames) such as the Miracoli della Croce (Miracles of the Cross) by Vittore Carpaccio; Gentile Bellini and others, were placed to adorn the decorative display of the Oratory of the Cross. In the mid-sixteenth century, Tiziano's paintings also embellished the ceiling of the Sala dell'Albergo; works unfortunately no longer present in the School. The final major architectural modifications to the Sala Capitolare and the east and west wings were done by George Massari in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Outside the school is a marble partition (Septo Marmoreo) by Pietro Lombardo (1478-1481), a sizeable architectural composition and masterpiece of Venetian Renaissance sculpture, decorated with the symbols of the School and its patron (the cross, the eagle and the Gospels); it defines a secluded urban space where, on the left is the church dedicated to San Giovanni and, on the right is the School building, whose first construction in the mid-fourteenth century was modified and increased during the centuries that followed.

The first welcoming environment as one enters the School is a wide foyer (Atrium) belonging to the renewed fourteenth century building of which testimony remains in the ceiling with bare beams and peripheral decorations of spiral-carved wood. The space serves as an entrance to the various functional areas of the School. From here you can see a portal facing the great staircase framed by two grooved pillars on which rests a beautiful architrave in niello. On the walls are stone inscriptions relating to the story of the buildings and a bas-relief of the Resurrection of Jesus attributed to the "bottega" (workshop) of Antonio Rizzo, which was not originally part of the school.

The Sala Verde, situated under the Sala dell'Albergo, was for a long period used as a warehouse and offices. It was restructured at the beginning of the 1990s, restoring it to its original dimension.
It has a noble welcoming appearance thanks to the shade of the slate flooring (from which colour its name is derived) and of the ceiling, with its 15th Century beams still visible.
On the walls are paintings, gifts of the brotherhood: Presentazione di Maria al Tempio ('Presentation of Mary at the Temple'), attributed to the workshop of Palma il Giovane, Miracolo della Croce, ('Miracle of the Cross'), a portrait of Guardian Grande Andrea Vendramin, and Apparizione dell'Angelo a San Pietro ('Appearance of the Angel to St Peter').

Previously named the Sala Grigia (Grey Room), is situated under the Sala del Guarana and is a part of an extension of the building erected in the 17th Century for the administrative requirements of the Scuola.
Reorganised in the fiftieth year of the previous century, it hosted the 17th Century painting of San Giovanni che adora la Croce ('St John Worshipping the Cross'), work of Morlaiter. The painting was used to adorn the altar of the Oratory and was removed during the insertion of the golden tabernacle that contains the Relic of the Cross (1906 - 1929).

"La Sala Delle Colonne" (The Hall of Columns) is a vast hall which was intended to host the brothers and pilgrims, which keeps the medieval aspect of the fourteenth century building. It contains five stone columns with lowered bases decorated on the summit with capitals carved in the form of owlets beaks and with the figure of a brother in cloak and the staff of San Giovanni. The columns support the long cross-beam bearing the exposed ceiling beams (rompitratta) of the upper floor.
The severe walls are enlivened by various openings; a renaissance portal providing access to a small square (campiello); a door overlooking the canal and a portal equal to that of the Atrium, which leads to the east of the Scalone (Great Staircase). Beneath the bay of the Scalone is a small chapel "La Cappella dei Morti" (the shrine of the dead).
The hall, restored and made impermeable to "L'acqua alta" (high water) after flooding in 1966, was prepared with marble; for the most part not belonging to the School.

From the Atrium and La Sala Delle Colonne two wide renaissance portals give access to two flights of the "Scalone Monumentale": jewel of La Scoula Grande di San Giovanni, and a masterpiece by Mauro Codussi of Bergamo (1498). Codussi (remembered in the lists of the confraternity as "Moro murer") displayed his extraordinary ability by creatively utilising the confined space caused by the building's proximity to the rivulet of San Giovanni.

The architect resolved the confinement by creating an illusory space. This effect was achieved by widening the internal walls of the staircases (the steps to the summit are about 70cm wider than the base). In this way the perspective lines of the stairs create the illusion of more depth than in reality.

There are some other elements that add strength to this distorted perception: two closed cupolettes at the bottom of the stairs, the lateral windows that scan the ascent and the small arches on hanging capitals that decorate the domed ceiling.

At the top of the two flights, Codussi, managing to create a refined anteroom for the principal hall, widened the narrow usable space by covering it with an elegantly petite closed cupolette that rests on a drum decorated in niello, and opening four great arches embellished by elements of the Renaissance; two towards the staircases, one for entry to the hall and one crowning a large double lancet window with round arches and central eye - an authentic Codussi trademark.

Under the direction of Giorgio Massari, between 1727 and 1762 the Sala Capitolare was built. It is a grand environment; elegant and bright. The ancient wooden ceiling decorated in gold and azurite, was elevated of five metres (from seven to eleven) and twelve large oval windows were added that capture the light above the surrounding roofs, streaming it towards the floor, an absolute masterpiece of coloured marble (white, red and black) interwoven in geometric oval and star shapes, forming three great rosettes. On the walls there are wooden benches with the same pattern.

On the farthest wall is an altar dedicated to San Giovanni that replaces its wooden predecessor, a work of considerable dimension in clear marble with grey streaks (created by Massari in 1728). In the centre, the niche holds a statue of San Giovanni Evangelista, represented by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter (1732 - 1733) in the act of writing his Gospel, beside an eagle and a cherub, symbol of divine inspiration.

Many of the paintings on the walls tell of episodes of the life of San Giovanni Evangelista according to the "Legenda Aurea" of Jacopo da Varagine, whilst on the ceiling is a series of scenes from the book of the Apocalypse, another work written by the author of the fourth Gospel.

These matching rooms, built in 1757 to complement the Sala Capitolare are renowned for their rich stuccos by Antonio Adami and Francesco Re.

The iconographic display of white stuccos on yellow fields in the room of the left is dominated by the scene of the intense dramatic power of the crucifixion, on the right wall. At Jesus' sides are the figures of his mother Mary, and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, as expressed in his Gospel.

Within this elegant chapel - also modified in the seventeenth century restorations - is kept on the altar, a superb Gothic crystal and gilt silver relic that contains two fragments of the cross of Jesus. The relic, which was delivered to this School in 1369, has always been treasured among the confraternity.

The decoration of the seventeenth century ceiling is also worthy of note: surrounding the central canvas Trionfo dell Croce (Triumph of the Cross) by Francesco Maggiotto (1784 - 1788) are stuccos of delicate green, pastel blue and pink which are illuminated with extensive gilding. Inside the small blue circles are the symbols of San Giovanni: the eagle, the staff and the goblet of poison, which according to the apocryphal stories the saint would have drunk without harm.
The canvases on the walls, in part of external origin, replace the fourteenth century series of the Miracoli della Croce, now at the Gallerie dell'Accademia.

The Oratory of the Cross leads to the Sala Dell'Albergo so called as it hosted the government meetings of the School (Banca e Zonta). The small quadrangular environment - excluded from the seventeenth century interventions - keeps its severe sixteenth century appearance, with wooden "dossali" on the walls decorated with simple geometric engravings and decorative borders.

Four imposing paintings depicting episodes of the Apocalypse by Jacopo Palma il Giovane (1581 - 1582) are all that remain of a iconographic display from the second half of the sixteenth century, which began on the ceiling, (now removed) with Tiziano's splendid painting the Visione di San Giovanni a Patmos placed in a gilt frame.