In the Middle Ages numerous brotherhoods and confraternities were established in Venice with the purpose of providing mutual assistance against poverty. They were later distinguished into Scuole Grandi and Scuole Piccole according to the role they played in the religious, social and civic structure of the city.
The only Scuola Piccola still operating in Venice is located in Castello, one of the six districts of the city: the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, dedicated to the patron saints of George, Tryphon and Jerome. The name Schiavoni derives from an ancient region of Dalmatia, called Schiavonia.
As a result of the continuous Turkish expansionism from east to west, many Dalmatians who kept immigrating to Venice felt the need of joining in a Scuola. In 1451 they decided to found one to defend and protect the rights of their community.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, thanks to the donation of a precious relic related to Saint George, the members of the Scuola decided to embellish the interior of their building. They commissioned Vittore Carpaccio, a painter of stories, to decorate it with a series of canvases, some of which were dedicated to Saint George.
The saint, represented as a knight, faces and slays the dragon, a general symbol of evil against good. However, this frightening beast was part of a broader cultural background well-known to the Venetians, who identified it as their enemy, the Ottoman Empire.
With the fall of the Republic in 1797, Napoleone Bonaparte put an end to the Venetian guild system, for which Venice had stood out throughout its long history. The reason why this Scuola was not dissolved was due to the particular attention that the French demonstrated towards Dalmatia.
The pictorial cycle is still ‘in situ’ i.e. on the ground floor of the Scuola. Its visit is highly recommended in view of the exhibition dedicated to Vittore Carpaccio, that will take place in the Doge’s Palace, in the apartment of the doge, from 18th March to 18th June 2023.