Art, faith and medicine in Tintoretto’s Venice

Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto: two brothers of St Mark School

From 06 September 2018 to 06 January 2019

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The year in which Venice celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of Tintoretto, the Scuola Grande di San Marco is paying homage to the artist with an interesting exhibition on show from 6th September 2018 through to 6th January 2019, which investigates the close relationship between art, faith and medicine in 16th-century Venice.

At the time of Jacopo and his son Domenico, Venice was a city in constant turmoil, faithful to its traditions but open to external influences. The city promoted the rediscovery of ancient knowledge and the dissemination of the latest scientific discoveries, offering a stimulating environment in which publishers and printers worked closely with scientists, physicians and anatomists. The crossroads of cultures and knowledge derived from it profoundly contributed to the scientific revolution of the 16th century.

In this lively historical and social context, the Scuola Grande di San Marco gradually took on a crucial role as a place of assistance, devotion and artistic avant-garde. Born as a simple confraternity, the School was able to transform itself to keep up with the times and, from a simple place of expiation, it became a healing centre where some of the most famous doctors and surgeons of the period worked. The activities of the School were inspired by the miracles of St Mark: Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto were called to immortalize them in a magnificent pictorial cycle, of which only the canvases for the chapel are still today preserved in the School.

The Scuola Grande San Marco Tintoretto exhibition explores the extraordinary combination of art, faith and medicine that characterized the two Tintorettos. Seven fascinating sections will guide the visitor to discover the relationships between devotional activities, medical practices, anatomical studies and representations of the human body thanks to a precious collection of art works, such as paintings, drawings, printing matrices, illustrated volumes, illuminated codes, incisions and surgical instruments.

1- Scuola Grande di San Marco. Medicine of the soul and medicine of the body

The Scuola Grande di San Marco was one of the largest secular confraternities in Venice. Of ancient foundation, it was initially dedicated to the atonement of the sins of both living souls and the dead. During the 15th century, in parallel with the transfer of the headquarters to Campo SS Santi Giovanni and Paolo (1438), the School began to assist the poor by offering money, food, free housing and dowry donations for the daughters of poor fellow brothers.
Among the various forms of charity, assistance to sick fellow brothers gradually took on an increasingly important role. In the 14th century the School was equipped with a hospital in which medical care was carried out by doctors and surgeons of the School who, in exchange for free admission, freely offered their skills. In the sixteenth century, the School boasted among its members Nicolò Massa (1489-1569), an internationally renowned doctor and surgeon, and Tommaso Giannotti Rangone (1493-1577), doctor, astrologer, philosopher, bibliophile and artistic client.

2- From myth to history: the cycle of the Chapel of the Scuola Grande di San Marco

On 28 December, 1585, Jacopo Tintoretto made a formal commitment to paint the cycle of the new chapel of the School in exchange for the inscription to the confraternity of his son Giovan Battista, his son-in-law Marco Augusta (married to Marietta), Bartolomeo di Lorenzo Sartor and Angelo Girardi. The six canvases of the chapel, dedicated to the predestination and the return of the body of Saint Mark to Venice, were eventually painted by Tintoretto’s son Domenico. On 19 September, 1612, Domenico also obtained the commission of the altarpiece but his sketches did not convince the School and the task was then entrusted to 'Giacomo Palma [the Younger]'.
The works remained in the School until its suppression on 25 April, 1806. Once state property, they were first moved to the Library of the Archbishop's Seminary of Venice and then to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Murano. In 1924 the Dream of Saint Mark was transferred to the Gallerie dell'Accademia, while four of the six remaining paintings were deposited at the former School, which had been converted into a Civic Hospital. Two, unfortunately, have been lost.

3 - Tommaso Giannotti Rangone: doctor, fellow confrere and artistic patron

Tommaso Giannotti arrived in Venice in 1528. His prosperity, resulting from working as a doctor of the Venetian fleet and advisor to the Magistrato alla Sanità, allowed him to devote himself to the drafting of medical treatises and hygiene handbooks and to become one of the major patrons of Venetian Renaissance.
In 1559 Tommaso joined the Scuola Grande di San Marco and, as soon as he was elected Guardian Grande, he offered the brothers three canvases dedicated to Saint MarkSt Mark’s Body Brought to Venice and St Mark Rescuing a Saracen from Shipwreck, today both housed at the Gallerie dell'Accademia, and the Miracles of St Mark, today at the Brera Pinacoteca, Milan - which aroused scandal as they celebrated the bond between Tommaso and the Evangelist Mark.
On 12 September, 1577, Tommaso died. On his instructions, during the funeral procession, medals, portraits, drawings, astronomical instruments and hundreds of books were exhibited. Among these volumes we should mention a precious edition of De humani corporis fabrica librorum Epitome by Andrea Vesalio (1543), which will also be exhibited in the exhibition dedicated to Tintoretto at St Mark School in Venice open at the same tables indicated in Giannotti's will.

4 - Plague: medical and spiritual care

At the time of Tintoretto, the Serenissima was scourged by the plague nine times. The government institutions tried to contain the epidemics as best as they could, also setting up a special commission that had the task of reducing the effects and spread of the plague. During the 1486 epidemic and the following century, this commission assumed the role of public health authority.
During the 16th century a series of quarantine sites were created to try to limit the spread of the disease and, in parallel, doctors began to engage in the investigation of the plague by elaborating new theories on its transmission and proposing new remedies. The discoveries were published in treatises written in Latin, Italian and dialect.
To try and stem the disease, the inhabitants of Venice also invoked the divine intervention through collective rituals: at the Scuola Grande di San Marco, for example, public flagellation was practiced while in St Mark’s Square prayers and processions were organized, during which votive images were displayed, such as the icon with the Madonna Nicopeia and, most likely, the canvas Venice Imploring the Virgin, Who Intercedes with Christ to Stop the Plague by Domenico Tintoretto.

5 - Anatomy and art: the body in the Renaissance

The Middle Ages was also the century in which there was a new interest in anatomical dissections, both in search of signs of sanctity, and for reasons of study and research. The anatomy demonstrations followed the ancient texts and were intended to deepen the knowledge of anatomy in order to make use of them during surgery and pathological investigation. As the studies progressed, a revision of ancient texts became necessary: it is the beginning of the so-called Scientific Revolution.
This interest spread also in the world of arts with the aim of obtaining a better rendering of the dynamism and beauty of the forms of the human body. The contribution of the artists can be seen in several anatomical treatises considered real masterpieces, such as De humani corporis fabrica by Andrea Vesalio (1543) or in the color anatomical tables by Girolamo Fabrici d'Acquapendente. In the drawing manuals, the students were called to contrast the imperfections of the body highlighted by the anatomists with the perfection of classical sculpture. In this interesting dialogue between art and science, the representations of "animated corpses" led to an increase in the study of nature and a greater curiosity by readers towards the human body.

6 - The miraculous ring of St Mark

During the fire that hit St Mark’s Basilica on 11 August 976, the body of the Evangelist was saved and placed in a secret place inside it. Decades passed before the Basilica was reopened... During this time, records of where the body had been placed were lost. In June 1094, before the consecration of the new Basilica, the doge Vitale Falier held three days of fasting and public processions so that the Evangelist would indicate his burial site: on June 25, finally, the body of the patron saint emerged from a pillar near the chapel of St Leonard.
Legend has it that, on that occasion, St Mark donated his ring to Domenico Dolfin dalla Ca 'Grande, who had promised to share its healing properties with the devotees of the Saint. In 1509 Lorenzo Dolfin gave the precious relic to the Scuola di San Marco for 100 ducats: since then, every year on 25 June, the ring was shown in the Basilica to the sick, who congregated to commemorate the Apparition of St Mark and seek a cure for their ailments. In 1574, the ring and other relics were stolen from the School: the fellow brothers decided to commission Domenico Tintoretto for a canvas that depicted the gift to Dolfin. In the St Mark School Venice Tintoretto exhibition, a rare sketch created by Domenico for the canvas is on display.

7 - Surgery between science, art and crafts

According to tradition, doctors treated the body’s internal ailments - those not visible - while surgeons the external ones. In reality, however, the two professions often overlapped.
Surgeons wrote the most famous anatomical treatises of the 1500s because, in addition to having studied the texts of Hippocrates and Galen, they regularly practiced what was described. Among the major innovations introduced by surgery were the study of ancient instruments and the creation of new instruments that was presented in volumes, both small and large. This allowed the dissemination of ideas among colleagues, patients and artisans, who had to implement the projects described in them: the illustrated printed book became a means of technological innovation that had to combine the needs of surgeons, carvers, printers and metalsmiths.


In addition to the Tintoretto exhibition at the Doge’s Palace, 'The Young Tintoretto' at the Gallerie dell'Accademia and 'The Venice of Tintoretto' at Palazzo Mocenigo, the events to celebrate the Venetian genius on the 500th anniversary of his birth are enriched by another great exhibition at the Scuola Grande di San Marco! Check out our special Tintoretto 500 section to discover all our proposals dedicated to this special anniversary!

Tintoretto Scuola Grande San Marco exhibition

  • Adult: €5.00
  • Concession: €3.00 - under 18s and over 70s
  • Free - City of Venice residents, guides registered in the Register of the Veneto Region, patients hospitalized in the Civic Hospital and employees of the Civic Hospital


  • St Mark School Venice exhibition 2018
  • Sala dell'Albergo on the first floor of the School
  • Exhibition on the Impossible Library in the Saletta della Porta d'Acqua
  • The Church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti and its altarpiece St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins by Jacopo Tintoretto.
By Insidecom Editorial Staff