Venice Feature


Venice's Scuola Days

An institution you'll inevitably encounter from Venice's glory days is the scuola. These weren't schools, as the word today translates, but important fraternal institutions. The smaller ones (scuole piccole) were established by different social groups—enclaves of foreigners, tradesmen, followers of a particular saint, and parishioners. The scuole grandi, however, were open to all citizens and included people of different occupations and ethnicities. They formed a more democratic power base than the Venetian governmental Grand Council, which was limited to nobles.

For the most part secular, despite their devotional activities, the scuole concentrated on charitable work, either helping their own membership or assisting the city's neediest citizens. The tradesmen's and servants' scuole formed social-security nets for elderly and disabled members. Wealthier scuole assisted orphans or provided dowries so poor girls could marry. By 1500 there were more than 200 minor scuole in Venice, but only six scuole grandi, some of which contributed substantially to the arts. The Republic encouraged their existence—the scuole kept strict records of the names and professions of contributors to the brotherhood, which helped when it came time to collect taxes.

Updated: 2014-04-10

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