In Venice there were many scuole, confraternities, or lay brotherhoods, founded as devotional institutions, that were set up with the purpose of providing mutual assistance. The scuole also depended on the state, which exercised a protective and supervisory role. Each scuola had its own meeting house where the members gathered: these buildings still today preserve an extraordinary historical and artistic heritage.
By the sixteenth century, there were over two hundred scuole in Venice, among which there were six Scuole grandi, devotional scuole with their specific religious connotations. Today there are four Scuole grandi still active in Venice: Carmini, San Giovanni Evangelista, San Rocco, San Teodoro.
There were also other types of scuola in Venice, the Scuole minori, such as the scuole of the arts and crafts, which protected the interests of different categories of workers and regulated their activity. All the trades were represented: the “Botteri“, those who made barrels; “Curameri“, those who worked leather; “Forneri“, who made bread; “Frutaroli“; “Pistori” and many others.
Then, there were the national Scuole which grouped the members of each foreign community in the town. For example, the Scuole of the Milanese, Lucchesi, Albanians, Germans, Florentines. Also the synagogues in the Jewish Ghetto were called Scuole, because of their role both social and religious.
The Scuola Dalmata di San Giorgio e Trifone, also known as San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, is one of these national scuole, founded with the intention of bringing together residents in Venice from the Dalmatia region (now part of Croatia). The Scuola Dalmata was recognized in 1451 – following the conquest of Dalmatia by the Venetians – as a confraternity of sailors, soldiers and emigrants belonging to the Dalmatian community in Venice. Schiavoni is the term with which the inhabitants of the Dalmatian islands were called at the time.
The ground floor of the Scuola Dalmata houses one of the most extraordinary painting cycles of the early Venetian Renaissance, executed by Vittore Carpaccio in the early sixteenth century. This cycle of paintings narrates the stories of the confraternity’s patron saints George,Tryphon and Jerome. The masterpiece in the series is certainly the Vision of St Augustine. The Saint is caught in the instant in which the voice of St Jerome distracts his attention from a letter he was writing to him, to advise him of his imminent death and ascent to heaven.
The building of the Scuola Dalmata was renovated in 1551, when the façade was covered with white Istrian stone and the bas-relief with Saint George was made for the portal. Just above the high altar is a precious relic of Saint George. The Scuola Dalmata was one of the rarest religious institutions which managed to keep its artistic heritage intact and in the same premises, notwithstanding the decree of Napoleonic suppressions.