Our Guided Tours in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco: Francesco Pianta’s Sculptures

Wooden masterpieces... During a guided tour of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco most of our guests are amazed at the sight of the pictorial decoration by one of the greatest masters of the Renaissance, Jacopo Tintoretto.
However, after having described his masterpieces of the second floor, both in the Hostel room and in the majestic Chapter Hall, we usually point out to our guests also the marvellous wooden sculptures by Francesco Pianta, which excellently enrich the wall decoration.

Francesco Pianta

We do not have much information about this somehow visionary sculptor. We know that he was born in Venice in 1634, in St. Samuel’s parish, and that he died in 1692.
Most of his male relatives (his father, both his grandfathers, his uncles) were wood carvers. He was registered in 1655 in the Guild of Carvers, of which he became gastaldo (i.e. president) several times. At one point of his life he became really famous thanks to the sculptures he carved for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, but eventually he was forgotten.
Luckily, after having been thoroughly studied, today Pianta is considered a fundamental artist in order to understand the development of the Venetian Baroque style.

Francesco Pianta at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco

From 1657 to 1675 Francesco was engaged in the decoration of the walls of the Chapter Hall, carving walnut dossals and sculptures. The master projected, on the basis of the book “Iconology” by Cesare Ripa, several bizarre figures, which are sometimes difficult to understand, and nonetheless really intriguing. This might be his most important innovation during a century characterised by the absence in Venice of relevant artists.

The Chapter Hall, great School of San Rocco, guided tour 
How can we read his masterpieces? He suggested it himself: at the end of the stairway that leads to the Chapter Hall, on the right we can find the statue of Mercury, who holds a parchment scroll: here Pianta wrote the names and the descriptions of all his sculptures at San Rocco, starting from Melancholy and then proceeding clockwise with the others.


We are aware of the fact that every single sculpture deserves attention, but since we cannot write about all of them in our post, we would like to describe at least a few… as far as the others are concerned, we will be more than pleased to show them to you during a private guided tour! 

The Allegorical Sculptures

First of all, we would like to talk about the Library, an absolute masterpiece: here Pianta carved 64 books, organised in 5 shelves. On every book he engraved the title and the name of the author. This exceptional work of art impressed everybody at that time, and still impresses the visitors today, in particular for its incredible realism: it is almost impossible to resist the temptation of choosing a book and taking it from the shelf to read it right away.

The Library
In the middle of the Library we find something similar to a tabernacle with the monogram of this Scuola Grande, SR. Inside this tabernacle we can admire a pen with an inkwell and more books of a smaller size. And what can we say about the glasses, placed on top of one of the books, after a long day spent in reading?

The Tabernacle
At the sides of the Library we find two major works. On the left we can see a male figure representing the Fury grinding his teeth, his eyes blindfolded. You can clearly perceive a feeling of violence, of wrath. The Fury has to be kept back with the use of chains: if he escapes, he can only bring destruction along. He is placed on top of different weapons that can be really dangerous in his hands. Even his curly hair increases the strong emotions that this figure transmits.

The Fury
On the right of the Library we find the Spy, again a male figure, entirely wrapped in his cloak, his face hidden except for his eyes, wide open, that peep out under the hat, to observe what takes place all around… at the basis of this sculpture a shoe is represented with a little wing on the back… intriguing…

The spy

Last but not least, we can also admire an almost caricatural portrait of Tintoretto, holding the tools needed for his job, with a grumpy look in his eyes.

Vices and virtues, which appear to be related one to the other, symbolism, originality, liveliness of the figures, perfection in sculptural rendering: we can discover all this and much more as we admire Francesco Pianta’s masterpieces.
We will be waiting for you in Venice to take you on a guided tour of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco… like the Spy, we will metaphorically hold a lantern to cast light on all the details of the works of art of this extraordinary Venetian sculptor of the 1600’s.
See you soon! Ciao!
You might be also interested in the following itineraries and posts:

The Frari church and the Scuola Grande of San Rocco. (section: Classical tours of Venice)

Curious sculptures in Venice: walking tour. (section: Blog)

A tailored guided tour in Venice: the lions'mouths. (section: Blog)

Scuola Grande di San Rocco: a saint and a painter for the glory of Venice. (section: Blog)

Our guided and private tours of Venice. (section: Blog)

A walking tour in Venice to discover the wells. (section: Blog)