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San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

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Whenever anyone asks me about “must see” places in my favorite city, I always mention this little church, one of a handful of places that I never skip when I’m there. It’s truly one of the magical spots of Venice, with a cycle of paintings that remains amazing no matter how many times I see it.

Jan Morris writes in The World of Venice:

“Nothing anywhere is more piquantly charming than the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, which Carpaccio decorated long ago, with a small series of masterpieces. It is no bigger than your garage, and its four walls positively smile with the genius of this delightful painter, the only Venetian artist with a sense of humor.”

Most guidebooks identify this place as a scuola, which it is, but it’s also a church. For a while, I thought it was a former church but the last time I was there, the nice fellow selling tickets told me that it’s still a consecrated church that celebrates Mass a few times a year.

The scuola/church was founded in 1461 by Dalmatian merchants and sailors living in Venice, men from the east coast of the Adriatic in what is now Croatia. The confraternity commissioned Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio to decorate their building with the narrative painting cycle that’s still there today. Carpaccio painted these works in 1502-9, right before the Venetian Renaissance, and for centuries, art critics more or less ignored him, labeling his work as naïve or primitive magical realism of little worth in comparison with Titian and Veronese. Most art historians credit good old John Ruskin for reminding the world about Carpaccio’s genius in the 19th century.

The Roman bell tower on the side of the building with a row of pigeons in front of it~

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This painting below, by American artist Joseph Lindon Smith, shows the lower hall of San Giorgio degli Schiavoni with what looks like two characters from the paintings themselves admiring the Carpaccio cycle.

lindonsmith.jpg

I’d seen these paintings in books before ever seeing them in person, and there’s just no way to reproduce the warm glow of the colors and all the charming little details. The ten paintings in the cycle show episodes from the lives of the Dalmatian patron saints: San Giorgio, San Tryphone, and San Jerome. There are also a couple of scenes from the life of Christ, and a damaged but lovely Virgin and Child on the high altar that might have been painted by my favorite little-known Venetian artist, Vincenzo Catena, or by Carpaccio’s son, Benedetto, or perhaps by Vittore Carpaccio himself.

Every time I visit, I see something wonderful and new in these paintings. Plus, it’s a perfect art experience because unlike a museum, there are just enough paintings to take in at one time. There’s more art in the meeting hall upstairs that all pales in comparison to the Carpaccios downstairs, but it’s a cool room, and I do like the painted relief of St. George and the Dragon over the altar.

Sister Wendy Beckett calls Carpaccio “one of the great storytellers of art” and walking around this sanctuary does feel like being inside a magical storybook. I love the contrast between the first two St. George paintings – the dragon is so fierce and scary in the first and then completely deflated in the second as the saint walks him into town on a leash.

Carpaccio

As you walk around, you also see a basilisk, a gentle lion (with terrified monks running away from him, a funny sight!), pigeons and peacocks, and then the most adorable little dog in art looking with love and longing at St. Augustine who is sitting at his desk having a vision of St. Jerome. Is there any doubt that Carpaccio was an animal lover?

vision-of-saint-augustine.jpeg


Carpaccio dog

Lorenzetti on Carpaccio:

“One thing is certain and that is that his spirit was gifted with so exquisite a sensitivity and so sharp a feeling for all that was Venetian that more than any of his contemporaries, he felt and knew how to record on the canvas the very soul, environment, light and colour of his own divine city.”

The mysterious Madonna and Child that's on the high altar~


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Reliefs above the entrance. Above is the Virgin Enthroned with John the Baptist and St. Catherine. Below is San Giorgio and the dragon.


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Opening Hours.

Monday 2:45pm-6pm
Tuesday to Saturday 9:15am-1pm, 2:45pm-6pm
Sunday 9:15am-1pm
Holidays open from 9:15am to 1pm
Closed on Monday mornings and Sunday afternoons.
Admission: 4 Euro

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Comments (14)

Oh my --- I was wanting more:-)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I enjoyed learning about this wonderful church and the artists and art within it's walls. The first painting is amazing. I am drawn to that interesting person sitting on the bench who is covered head to toe except for her left leg which is completely exposed. The other people go about looking at the paintings. And just like that person sitting, the little dog in the 3rd painting drew my attention. It's like the painter intended us to see him more than anything in the room. You are so right about this artist. Really fascinating. You know I rented Sister Wendy's DVD again. (Thanks again for writing about her) I may have to buy it for my library.

I loved your photos especially the one with the bells. I enjoy reading about these artists and their work. Thanks you so much for sharing Annie.

Marie:

Annie,

So glad you posted on this church. I agree that it's the perfect size, and I, too, love St. Augustine's dog. We plan our next Venice trip for next April/May and look forward to seeing the scuola again.

Marie

Off topic, but I remember you posting about San Giacomo dell Orio. Did you ever notice the funny little relief of the saint (I presume) high up on the outside wall of the church near the Prosecco end of the campo? I can send you an image, if you like.
--M.

sandrac:

What an interesting post, Annie. This looks like a fascinating church/scuola, another for my list.

St George is a fascinating subject -- I'm now curious to see the second painting you mention, with the Saint leading the dragon on a leash! Maybe I'll start with Sister Wendy and see if she uses the image.

Andrew:

I'm reading this at 3am waiting for our lift to the airport. WE'RE OFF TO VENICE for the w/e. Regata Storica on Sunday. Lovely blog which has got me doubly excited! Thanks Annie. Keep up the good work.

Thanks for your comments everyone.

M, I think you'd love this place.

Kathy, that exposed leg is funny and is just the kind of quirky detail you see in the Carpaccio paintings too. Maybe that's why Lindon Smith did it?

Hi Marie, I sent you an email. I'd love to see that relief!

Sandra, the Web Gallery of Art has all the paintings from the San Giorgio cycle; here's the link:

http://www.wga.hu/index1.html

I'm glad you've added this place to your list.

Andrew, thanks and safe travels! You're probably in Venice by now. Have a great time and please report back!

Bert:

I like the photo of your entrance ticket, Annie. I may be wrong (I haven't time right now to check), but I think the saint on the left is San Girolamo, patron saint of Croatia. Obviously San Giorgio in the middle and Santa Caterina on the right.
I wonder why San Triffon is neglected?

Hi Bert, I think you're right about San Girolamo; he's often depicted holding a church. I too wonder why they chose these three to print on the ticket; if you find out, please let me know.

Andrew:

A tip on going to see the Regata Storica ( first Sunday every September). Go to the fondamenta between the fish market and Rialto bridge at 9.30 ish in the morning. You will find various groups setting out chairs for viewing the waterborne procession which starts at 4.00. Buy your tickets from the guys with the cheapest garden chairs. We had seats one metre from the water's edge and a fantastic view for €12 each. There were 10 of us. Tickets sell out very quickly so get there early. See my facebook page for photos from 2006 regata.

Andrew, thanks for the tip! So did you have to sit there all day or did you just pay and they held the seats for you? It sounds fantastic! I'd love to see you photos but I'm not on Facebook.

Thanks and I hope you had a wonderful trip (or maybe you're still there). Cheers, Annie

Andrew:

We didn't sit there all day. In fact we turned up minutes before the start and with a few 'permesso's pushed through the crowds to our wonderful seats feeling their eyes burrowing into our backs!

Andrew:

You really should get this blog linked to Facebook. You would reach many more people. Just don't ask me how to set it up!

Andrew, thanks. You know, Slow Travel (which hosts my blog) IS on Facebook. I should check into what they do!

Terrific post. This is exactly why I love Europe and Italy...small old churches but with fantastic artistic surprises inside.

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