The Santa Maria della Carita Complex
The complex can be found in the district of Dorsoduro at the foot of the Accademia Bridge. It is made up of the church, the convent of the Canonici Lateranensi and the Scuola Grande whose rooms, now communicating, house the Accademia Gallery.
Church of Santa Maria della Carità
Tradition has it that it was built in the 12th century in the place of an old wooden church and that the layout was that of a basilica with three naves in the Venetian Byzantine style.
Towards the middle of the 15th century, thanks to the support of Pope Eugenio IV who had Venetian roots, the church was rebuilt in stone in the Gothic style by Bartolomeo Bon. Today only the old walls remain, the bell tower collapsed in 1744.
The high Gothic door, that decorated the facade and the spires and pinnacles on the rooftop don’t exist anymore. Paintings by Canaletto are the only witness to its original structure of the 1400s.
In 1807 the church underwent important changes after decisions by the Napoleonic government to transfer the church into a school for artists.
The architect Gianantonio Selva, who was commissioned to restructure the building, divided it horizontally and vertically to obtain new spaces.
He closed the Gothic windows, opened skylights in the roof and linked the first floor rooms with a corridor accessible by a staircase between the back wall of the Sala Dell’Albergo and the Scuola Grande.
The Convento of theCanonici Lateranensi
The monastery was built in 1134 by a group of monks of the Laterin order originating in Ravenna. In the course of the years the building was enlarged thanks especially to the brotherhood of the School of Battuti to whom the monks had given space in the 1200s.
In the 16the century Andrea Palladio began important works on the convent and finished in 1561.
Most of the original work has been lost – a part of it in the fire of 1630. It was left to the architects, Selva and Lazzari to recuperate what was lost and rebuild. Of the building that still remains there is the ‘scala ovata’, the spiral staircase that Goethe in his ‘Journey through Italy’ called the most beautiful spiral staircase in the world.
In 1768 the Canonici Lateranensi order was closed down.
Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità
The Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, was founded in 1260. It was the first scuola grande or large school – they were once called the schools of the ‘Battuti’ meaning those whose rules dictated this type of penance. It was first housed in the church of St Leonardo, later on the Giudecca and later still in 1261, they obtained space in the convent of the Canonici lateranensi of Santa Maria della Carità.
Like the other schools their aims were to help each other and provide charity towards the poor.
Thanks to its wealth, the confraternity helped the Canonici Lateranensi to buy land and in 1344 began construction of today’s building.
The entrance at number 1050, remained communal with the convent. It was decorated with Gothic niches inside which were the patron saints of the school – the Virgin with angels and praying brothers of 1345, St Leonardo and St Cristoforo, 1378.
The interior is decorated with a wooden sectioned ceiling, finished in gold with a blue background in the Sala Capitolare (conserved 15the century) and numerous paintings.
Among the most important are two works still exhibited in their original spaces in the Sala dell’Albergo of the school. They are the Presentation of Maria in the Temple by Titian (1538) and the triptych of the Madonna della Carità (charity) by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d'Alemagna (1480).
Around 1760 Bernardino Maccaruzzi, following designs by Giorgio Massari, modified the interior and exterior by completely substituting the old Gothic facade and opening a door onto the square. The façade we see today came to fruition in 1830 after work by architects Selva and then Lazzari.
The only records we have of the old building come from Canaletto who painted the ‘stonecutting workshop’ or Laboratorio del tagliapietra (first picture) that offers us a splendid picture of the area around the church and the school.
One can see the ornate facade, the elegant pinnacles with two windows set high in the building with its curvilinear forms. .
As with all the other schools, this one was also closed in 1806 under the famous Napoleonic edict.
The complex, along with the church and the monastery was destined to become a seat of the Accademia di Belle Arti and then the Accademia Gallery.