DALMATIAN SCHOOL OF SS. GEORGE AND TRYPHON
Also known as the School of S. Giorgio degli Schiavoni
The Venetian Schools are lay confraternities, a centuries-old institution dating as far back as the ninth century A.D. They became central to the social, political, economic and religious organization of the Venetian Republic for over seven centuries.
By the sixteenth century, there were over two hundred Schools in Venice. The “trade schools” were corporations in every sense of the term, playing an important role in safeguarding and developing the arts as well as a variety of trades: wool merchants, cobblers, goldsmiths, sailors, metal workers and many others. Alongside the academies, devotional and national schools were created, as in the case of the Greeks, the Albanians, the Lucchese, the Milanese, etc. The Dalmatian School was amongst these. The maps dating back to those times testify that the Dalmatian coast was of vital interest to the Republic of Venice, so much so that the entire Adriatic Sea was defined as the Gulf of Venice.
It is the 24 of March in the year 1451. A decree is promulgated by the Council of Ten officially recognizing the Dalmatian School of Saints George and Tryphon as per the request of the Dalmatian residents of Venice. To this day, the School is guided under the direction of a Grand Guardian and a Chancellery Council.
The School becomes the cenacle for the Dalmatians stationed in Venice. These men were commissioned to carry out their duties or to maintain regular ties with the city. Amongst them are sailors, laborers, artisans, merchants, armor-bearers and an educated class frequenting the city of Venice for a variety of reasons. The Dalmatians desire to establish a headquarters that goes beyond just a site for record-keeping. Indeed, the Dalmatian School becomes a second home built with its very own church bearing the relics of its patron saints. The School enables the Dalmatians to celebrate their weddings or funerals, find moral or economic assistance or just simply keep up with developments.
The institution is known as the School of the Dalmatian nation. Nevertheless, its cultural, political and economic commixture with Venice create the conditions for its members to fully integrate into the society of the Venetian Republic. The Dalmatians consider Venice their homeland to the point of sacrificing themselves for the survival of the Republic.
For centuries, the history of Dalmatia and its capital Zara developed alongside and intersected with that of Venice and of Italy. In fact, Dalmatia represented a secure bulwark against Ottoman expansion, which threatened the existence of Europe itself.
The Italian-speaking cities on the eastern coast of the Adriatic looked upon Venice as the Queen of the Adriatic. They provided soldiers for the Venetian Republic’s armies and navy in exchange for its protection. Few people know that during battles, the raising of the medieval flag on the flagship (which represents Saint Mark) was entrusted to the Dalmatian sailors of Perasto. Perasto is a small city located in the Bays of Kotor (in modern day Montenegro) whose citizens’ ardor and valor was highly acclaimed in the Venetian Republic.
In 1806, Napoleon ordered the suppression of the convents and of all the Venetian Schools, putting an end to their centuries-long activity. Only two schools were exempted from this order: the School of Saint Rocco and the Dalmatian School. Most likely, the former enjoyed the favor of being the French patron saint of Montpellier, while the latter owed its protection to the special attention that the French paid to Dalmatia.
The kiss of the Venetian flag
One of the great privileges that the so-called “Schiavoni” Dalmatian School enjoyed was that of having survived the fall of the Venetian Republic. As noted, the arrival of Napoleon decried the abolishment of all of the Venetian Schools as well as the seizure of their rich patrimonies and their works of art. Hence, upon visiting the Dalmatian School, you’ll discover one of the best preserved and authentic interiors in Venice. The refined simplicity of the Renaissance Venetian house gives its great canvas paintings, executed by Victor Carpaccio between 1502 and 1510, an even greater fascination. The works represent the School’s primary source of interest. It is no wonder that John Ruskin was so intrigued by the Dalmatian School and by Carpaccio’s works during his long search for lost realms. Ruskin in fact dedicated some of his most enthusiastic writings to these themes.
In 1848, the city’s Dalmatian residents and those present in Venice actively participated in defending Venice against the Austrians. Amongst them were Niccolò Tommaseo of Sibenik, one of the fathers of modern Italian. In the sacristy of the School’s church, you’ll find a plaque listing the names of those who participated in the armed defense of the city.
Italy’s defeat at the end of the Second World War and the emergence of the Yugoslav dictator Tito led thousands of Italian-speaking Dalmatians to abandon their territories. Some of them found refuge in Venice, their age-old Venetian and Italian homeland.