Used frequently during the day for conferences and in the evening for concerts, this scuola in 2009 began allowing visits at other times. Check the website to confirm open days.
The Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista is one of the six scuole grandi; founded in 1261, it is the most ancient of the still existing scuole. Originally attached to the church of Sant'Aponal, the scuola moved to its present premises in 1340. It grew in size and prestige, especially after the acquisition (1396) of a fragment of the True Cross, an event celebrated in a series of paintings now housed inside the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The scuola was closed at the Fall of the Republic then refounded in 1929 with the blessing of the Pope. Its building and its contents now carefully restored, this is one of Venice's most magnificent structures.
The scuola stands in a small courtyard, at the entrance of which is a screen with a superb eagle pediment carved by Pietro Lombardo. The ground-floor, with the large Sala delle Colonne, mostly maintains its medieval aspect, with fragments of medieval carvings on the walls; it was used as a space where members and pilgrims could gather.
The upper floor of the scuola is accessed by a magnificent double staircase, a masterpiece by the Renaissance architect Mauro Codussi.
The decoration in the Sala Capitolare is mainly 18th century. The floor is especially fine, with its geometrical patterns of multicoloured marbles that mirror the arrangement of the ceiling paintings. Giambattista Tiepolo was originally commissioned to execute the ceiling-paintings of the Apocalypse but left for Madrid without fulfilling his obligations. His son Giandomenico painted some of the smaller scenes on the ceiling (The Woman Clothed with the Sun and The Four Angels and the Four Evil Winds); despite their size they easily outshine the larger works at the centre of the sequence. The walls are hung with 17th and 18th-century paintings recounting the life of St John the Evangelist, by Domenico Tintoretto and others.
Also decorated in the 18th century was the Oratorio della Croce, where a tabernacle holding the precious piece of cross is one of the finest pieces of Venetian goldwork; it is rarely on display. This room originally contained a cycle of paintings by Gentile Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio, now in the Accademia; these days it has to make do with rather less inspired devotional works by Francesco Maggiotto, set within dainty stucco-work. Beyond this room is the Sala dell'Albergo, which contains a series of paintings by Palma il Giovane. The most spirited of these is St John's Vision of the Four Horsemen, recently restored.
The custodian will also open up the church of San Giovanni Evangelista across the courtyard, which has a Gothic apse but is mainly 17th- and 18th-century in its decoration.