The scuole were lay confraternities that devoted themselves to good works and became very important patrons of Venetian art. In terms of patronage and the composition of their membership they were comparable to the Arti or guilds in Florence, though their aims were more charitable and religious. Some of the paintings they commissioned, such as the series from San Giovanni Evangelista by Gentile Bellini, Carpaccio and other artists, record the processions of the confraternity as well various miracles taking place in Venice, which give us a vivid picture of Venetian life in the late fifteenth century. This series and the series of the life of St Ursula from the Scuola San Orsola, are now in the Accademia, but the scuole San Rocco and San Giorgio provide visitors with the opportunity of enjoying the paintings of Tintoretto and Carpaccio in their original settings. Whereas the paintings of Carpaccio in San Giorgio strike the visitor with their charm, freshness and touches of somewhat naïve realism, the Tintorettos in San Rocco have a spiritual dynamism which enormously impressed both Ruskin and Henry James. For perhaps the only time in his life Ruskin was at loss for words in front of Tintoretto’s gigantic painting of the Crucifixion: “I must leave this picture to work its work on the spectator, for it is beyond all analysis and above all praise”.
To hear how Henry James responded to the Scuola San Rocco paintings, play the audio below: