Venice really is a superb destination for art lovers, and it is not even necessary to spend time in the famous galleries to see renowned masterpieces. In fact, my favourite place to view such works in the whole city is the amazing Grand School of St Roch.
The perhaps now confusingly named schools were actually a distinctively Venetian institution, where lay citizens would gather for charitable, communal and religious reasons. That dedicated to St Roch was one of the most significant, and from the early 16th century onwards it was located in the purpose built structure that is now an especially noteworthy sight.
The edifice’s very fine white marble Renaissance façade illustrates the erstwhile wealth and importance of the organisation to good effect, so much so in fact that the small square that it overlooks seems somewhat overwhelmed. However, even such external grandeur does not provide first time visitors with any real clues to the unique splendour of the interior.
The one man primarily responsible for the magnificent décor is Tintoretto, whose involvement began in 1564, when he beat off tough competition to win an assignment to beautify just one of the smaller chambers. The resulting fruits of his labour were so impressive that more and more work followed, until over two decades later, the whole place had received the wonderfully imaginative attention of the painter.
Thankfully, the various rooms found in the two storeys of the building are still home to the glorious end product of the Renaissance master’s long period of amazing creativity, which occupy an incredible proportion of the walls, separated only by ornate frames and small pieces of elaborate woodcarving. In addition, the ceilings are similarly covered, but thankfully risking neck ache to survey the stunning view overhead is not necessary because large mirrors are available for use. None of the 50 or so depictions of biblical scenes would particularly move me if encountered individually in a more typical museum environment, but I was completely awestruck by the impact of finding them all together in the originally intended context.