The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2019
Berkeley Prize 2019

Raymond Lifchez: A Digital Archive of the Architecture of Charity

The Architectural Visual Resources Library of the Department of Architecture, College of Environmental Design, University of California Berkeley, offers to scholars and students of Venetian social and architectural history a digital database of approximately a thousand images of 139 buildings and building sites once dedicated to acts of charity and public assistance and established by the Confraternities (the scuole), the Venetian Republic, churches and synagogues, and private donors. The images are catalogued and may be accessed at,"Lifchez Gift" (location) "Venice." The images of buildings mentioned here may be viewed using the "Look up Tables" with the image accession number given beside the building name. The authors' research and field work leading to the establishment of the database began in 2002 and are ongoing.

Scuola Grande di San Marco

From the twelfth century until the occupation of the Venetian Republic by the French in 1797, and subsequently by the Austrians until 1866, charity and public assistance were offered to those in need by the state; synagogues and Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and other churches; private patrons; and confraternities. The confraternities were associations of laypeople, Venetian citizens, and resident foreign populations in trades or crafts, formed for secular and spiritual purposes. By the sixteenth century, numerous confraternities were found in the six sestieri of Venice (Cannaregio, Castello, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro, San Marco, and San Polo) and on the island of Giudecca. Tragically, in the decades that followed the suppression by the French of all but a special group of confraternities in 1806, the social role of the confraternities in the life of the Republic, and especially their personalized charitable endeavors, could not be duplicated by the new institutional forms of centralized social welfare.

In the Republic, depending upon the benefactor and the needs of the petitioner, charity took different forms: providing a poor family with a maiden's dowry or with a burial and the Masses said and candles burned for the deceased's salvation; giving a license to an individual to beg at the doorway of a certain premise; or providing an individual or a family with a place to live. The population perhaps best cared for were deserving members of a confraternity, those who inspired the largess of a patron, and those who had served the state, such as retired sailors and their families. But a large population of the unemployable, the poor, the elderly, the chronically ill, female children and women at risk, prostitutes, orphans, youths, widows and widows with children, travelers, and pilgrims en route to the Holy Land were also in need of shelter, food, and protection from abuse. Some of these unfortunates were served by confraternities or private patrons, but it was essentially the state that attempted to meet their needs, partly out of Christian charity but also to maintain social order.

Christian scuole placed themselves under the patronage of religious figures, such as Christ, the Virgin, or a saint, and the doctrine of charity was basic to their function. The incentive to undertake good works came from an awareness of the need for practical help and from theoretical ideas concerning the salvation of donor and recipient. As noted, good works and elemosina could mean physical and monetary assistance, but also prayer, frequent confession and communion, and spiritual help. The commitment of a scuola to charity was summed up in two phrases: amor proximi and amor dei. That is, to do good work that will benefit others in their daily lives and, through prayer, to serve God. Both amor proximi and amor dei had a singular objective: that through charity and love the scuola and its individual members would invoke God's blessings in this life and their salvation in the hereafter. Thus, each scuola had a formal relationship with its patron church, for it was there that the observances and rituals, the offices of the Mass and sacraments, gave a scuola its raison-d'être and bonded its members as confratelli or consorelle. If a scuola did not posses its own building, it rented space before the altar of its patron saint in an accommodating church. When a scuola occupied a separate building, this building was the architectural centerpiece of the scuola's properties. Wealthy scuole often erected lavish buildings that embellished with paintings and other works of art meant to inspire members with their teachings, charity being paramount.

The largest number of images in the database is of those buildings established by the major and minor confraternities known as scuole grandi and scuole piccole. These images are of each confraternity's principal building, or sede, known as the scuola, and their ancillary properties. Wherever a scuola and its patron church are adjacent, such as the Scuola Grande di S. Rocco and the Church of S. Rocco and the Scuola dei Tiraoro e Battioro and the Church of S. Stae, this relationship is also shown. The six scuole grandi, as named by Francesco Sansovino and established between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, became the wealthiest of all scuole and officially, as the major confraternities of the Republic, contributed to its social and political structure. The sede of the scuole grandi are major, world-class architectural monuments that, fortunately, have come down to us unscathed. Similarly, their multistoried housing bocks built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are magnificent works. Still inhabited, they are now public social housing, their interiors having been reconfigured for contemporary living.

Three scuole grandi have been given contemporary uses: S. Maria della Carità, now the Gallerie dell'Accademia, is a national art museum; San Marco is the city's principal hospital; and the interior of S. Maria della Misericordia is under reconstruction as a community social center. Santa Maria dei Carmini, S. Rocco, San Teodoro (designated as a scuola grande in the seventeenth century), and S. Giovanni Evangelista have retained their fraternal orders, who maintain their buildings by opening them to visitors and renting them for uses such as concerts, lectures, and plays. Another scuola, San Fantin, given the title of scuola grande because of its distinguished architecture and setting, is now a civic association of the arts; originally, its members were devoted to accompanying the condemned to the gallows. Brian Pullan's Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice (1971), which concentrates on the scuole grandi, remains the classic work among the vast literature devoted to the subject.

The many scuole piccole, about which there is also a vast literature, are characterized by Pullan as "lesser Confraternities." Many of their well-preserved buildings were at some point in time converted to new uses. The scuole piccole, known as scuole d'arti e mestieri, were essentially guilds of craftsmen, merchants, artists, doctors, women, and even the physically disabled for their social, spiritual, and political welfare. Foreign residents established scuole nazionali, which served its members as guilds and consulates, and as hospices for those from the community who were in need.

Other scuole piccole, known as scuole di devozione, were principally devoted to a cult, that of the Virgin, the Holy Sacraments, the Eucharist, or a particular saint. Scuole di devozione took an important role in the maintenance and rituals of their parish churches and were in a sense the ceremonial institution of their parish churches, a role parallel to that of the scuole grandi and their ceremonial functions as institutions of the Republic.

The urban presence and social role of all scuole were emphasized on the occasion of certain feasts, when the scuole paraded, individually or collectively, through the city's pedestrian ways in ceremonies that led to venerated shrines, which might be at a distance. Their processionals enlivened the city, often with music and, if at night, with candlelight. For the feast of Corpus Christi, all of the scuole ceremoniously joined the city's other civic and religious institutions in the Piazza S. Marco, marking their importance as a constituent part of the city's social and political order.

Several scuole piccole and especially the scuole grandi owned other properties that were acquired through legacies and gifts. Since the mid-thirteenth century, it became a common practice among the rich to bequeath lasciti perpetui vincolati of money or properties that aimed to assure to the dead benefactors prayers and Masses from the people who received such benefits. Usually the donor delegated an institution such as the Procurators of San Marco (public), parishes (ecclesiastic) and scuole (lay confraternities) to oversee his bequest (called commissaria) . These institutions either invested the money in properties for rental income or provided the people in need with accommodations in hospices or small apartments; such accommodations could be for free (amore Dei) or required a low rent . Between the end of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth century several hundreds of houses are estimated to be donated amore Dei.

The present research has documented blocks of apartments owned by the scuole for rentals, whose outstanding example is Castelforte di San Rocco , and apartments for populations in need, that is, hospices and public housing, the edilizia minima.

Franca Semi's Gli "Ospizi" di Venezia (1983) catalogues 115 ospizi and ospedali built before 1797. The greater number of these were established by the Republic, religious creeds, and private patrons to whom the burden of the massive population of the unfortunates fell. Outstanding architectural examples are the Ospizio of the Scuola dei Sartori, Ca' di Dio (Roman Catholic), Ospitale dei Greci presso la Scuola di S. Nicolò (Greek Orthodox), Ospedale di S. Maria dei Derelitti (private donor), Ospedale di S. Giacomo degli Incurabili (Republic and private donor), and Ospizio di Prete Zuane (Republic). Of the many ospedali, the Ospedale dei Crociferi is a handsome example of a twelfth-century building.

In the sixteenth century, when the state began to assume a greater role in the city's civic welfare, bigger ospedali were built in order to house those categories of population like beggars, the chronically ill, or incurables, considered outcast . The Ospedale di San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti and the Ospedale degli Incurabili are the most impressive examples.

Some scuole had their own hospices, like the Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia and the Scuola dei Sartori ; others used their sede as hospice, like the Scuola di San Nicolò dei Greci or the Scuola dei Lucchesi . The Ospizio dei Trevisani was a shelter founded probably by the city of Treviso for its citizens that happened to be in Venice; likewise, a private donor helped build a hospice for the Armenian pilgrims . Public housing, documented from the sixteenth century, consisted of a sequence of small living units in one or two blocks or around a courtyard . Interesting examples are the case della Marinarezza (apartments for sailors donated by the state) and the houses in Corte San Marco (a legacy to the Scuola Grande di San Marco).

Scholarly, annotated, and sometimes illustrated catalogues of the scuole and their buildings and those buildings of other benefactors were our guides in finding the buildings and building sites photographed for the database. Semi's catalogue was one of the eight most useful publications. The other seven are Cesare Augusto Levi, Notizie stoiche di alcune antiche scuole d'Arti e mestieri scomparse o esistenti ancora in Venezia (1895); Giovanni Scarabello, Scuole di arti, mestieri e devozione a Venezia (1981); Terisio Pignatti, Le Scuole di Venezia (1981); Richard Mackenney, Tradesmen and Traders: The World of the Guilds in Venice and Europe, c. 1250 - c. 1650 (1987); Franco Posocco, Scuola Grande di San Rocco: La vicenda urbanistica e lo spazio scenico (1997); Francesca Ortalli, "Per salute delle anime e delli corpi": Scuole piccole a Venezia nel tardo Medioevo (2001); and Gastone Vio, Le Scuole Piccole nella Venezia dei Dogi: note d'archivio per la storia delle confraternite veneziane (2004). We have also consulted numerous journal articles and architectural monographs.

The catalogues vary in the numbers of scuole active between c. 1100 and 1787. Vio, using only documents, shows that 925 scuole existed in Venice during the Republic. Pullan mentions the number 357 active in the eighteenth century, and Mackenney lists 377 between 1247 and c. 1763. Scarabello lists eighty extant scuole, which we have found and photographed along with ospizi, ospedali, and low-income housing established by all benefactors, catalogued by Semi. Our images include the emblems and/or inscriptions of what may remain of a pre-existing building. We are careful to show each building or building site within its context to convey its presence as part of the rich architectural fabric of the city.


The authors are in the process of augmenting the Digital Archive Of The Architecture Of Charity with new findings, especially with images of the interiors of the buildings already documented. This essay is also an invitation to others to contribute material to the archive, and contributions will be recognized as part of the catalogue entry.

[1] See B. Pullan, Abitazioni al servizio dei poveri nella Repubblica di Venezia, in G. Gianighian, Dietro i palazzi. Tre secoli di architettura minore a Venezia 1492-1803, Venezia 1984, 39-43.

[2] About the wealth and the investments of the Scuole Grandi see B. Pullan, Rich and poor in Renaissance Venice: the social institutions of a catholic state to 1620, Oxford 1971, 157-87.

[3] The Procurators of San Marco run 300-400 houses amore Dei. See E. R. Trincanato, Le forme dell’edilizia veneziana, in G. Gianighian, op. cit., p. 18. In 1582 the number of houses amore Dei are: 179 in Cannaregio, 173 in Castello, 194 in Dorsoduro, 72 in San Marco, 1 in San Polo and 36 in Santa Croce. See E. Concina, Venezia nell’età moderna. Struttura e funzioni, Venezia 1989, 85-6.

[4] See G. Gianighian, op. cit., pp. 80-83; F. Posocco, La vicenda urbanistica e lo spazio scenico: Scuola Grande di S. Rocco, Cittadella 1997, pp. 53-7.

[5] See E. R. Trincanato, Venezia minore, Venezia 1948, 65.

[6] See B. Pullan, op. cit., 197-236.

[7] See B. Aikema & D. Meijers, Nel regno dei poveri. Arte e storia dei grandi Ospedali veneziani in età moderna 1474-1797, Venezia 1989, 131-48; 249-271; F. Semi, Gli”Ospizi” di Venezia, Venezia 1983, 131-4; 273-4.

[8] See F. Semi, op.cit., 205-6.

[9] See F. Semi, op.cit., 206-7.

[10] See F. Semi, op.cit., 199-201.

[11] See F. Semi, op.cit., 187.

[12] F. Semi, op.cit., 158.

[13] See E. R. Trincanato, op. cit., 65-68.

[14] See R. Gallo, Corte Colonna a Castello e case per la marinarezza veneziana, in Ateneo Veneto 123, 1938; E. R. Trincanato, op. cit., 158-69; F. Semi, op. cit., 135-6;

[15] See E. R. Trincanato, op. cit., 65; 306-9; G. Gianighian, op.cit., 110-13.

Venice, Scuola Grande di San Marco
1. Venice, Scuola Grande di San Marco

San Polo, Scuola Grande di S. Rocco
2. San Polo, Scuola Grande di S. Rocco

Santa Croce, Scuola dei Tiraoro e Battioro
3. Santa Croce, Scuola dei Tiraoro e Battioro

Santa Croce, Scuola dei Medici
4. Santa Croce, Scuola dei Medici

Dorsoduro, Scuola degli Acquaroli
5. Dorsoduro, Scuola degli Acquaroli

Castello, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
6. Castello, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

San Marco, Scuola dei Calegheri Tedeschi
7. San Marco, Scuola dei Calegheri Tedeschi

Cannaregio, Scuola dell'Angelo Custode
8. Cannaregio, Scuola dell'Angelo Custode

San Polo, Scuola SS.Sacramento di San Pantalon
9. San Polo, Scuola SS.Sacramento di San Pantalon

Cannaregio, Hospice, Scuola dei Sartori
10. Cannaregio, Hospice, Scuola dei Sartori

Cannaregio, Ospedale dei Crociferi
11. Cannaregio, Ospedale dei Crociferi

Castello, Ospedale di San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti
12. Castello, Ospedale di San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti

San Polo, Castelforte, house of the Scuola di San Rocco for rents
13. San Polo, Castelforte, house of the Scuola di San Rocco for rents

Dorsoduro, housing of the Scuola di S.Marco, Corte S. Marco
14. Dorsoduro, housing of the Scuola di S.Marco, Corte S. Marco

Castello, Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci, Castello
15. Castello, Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci, Castello

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