Today, 16 August, is the Feast Day of San Rocco, also known as Saint Roch, the ‘plague saint’. As a fourteenth-century pilgrim, Rocco was famed for healing plague victims. Indeed, he died after contracting the disease whilst nursing the sick during an epidemic in Northern Italy. San Rocco is usually depicted lifting back his garments to reveal the plague bubo on his thigh and is often accompanied by a dog.
San Rocco was particularly venerated in Venice, where the plague was an ongoing and severe threat during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The saint’s Feast Day commemorated the end of a severe outbreak in 1576, as depicted in Canaletto’s The Feast Day of Saint Roch.
Cannaletto’s painting features the Scuola di San Rocco, a penitential institution formed in 1478 and dedicated to the saint. Rocco’s remains are kept in the Chiesa di San Rocco nearby.
In 1564, the Scuola organised a competition in order to choose a painter to decorate the confraternity’s Meeting House. According to Vasari, the Scuola invited Joseffo Salviati, Federico Zucchero, Paolo Veroneseand Jacopo Tintoretto to make a design for the central ceiling panel, with the best design to be awarded the commission. While Salviati, Zucchero and Veronese set about their designs, Tintoretto undermined his competitors by ignoring the rules and executing and installing his completed painting, The Glorification of Saint Roch. Initially angered at Tintoretto’s deliberate undermining of the rules, the brothers of the Scuola eventually accepted the work, which Tintoretto offered as a gift. In a series of three successive phases lasting until a few years before his death, Tintoretto went on to execute one of the most extraordinary cycles of Venetian painting for the Scuola.
Langmuir, Erika. A Closer Look: Saints. London: National Gallery Company, 2009.
Nichols, Tom. Tintoretto: Tradition and Identity. London: Reaktion Books, 2015.
Romanelli, Giandomenico. Tintoretto: La Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Electa: Firenze, 1994.
Paolo Moranda, Saint Roch, 1518, oil on canvas, 156.8 x 55.2 cm, left wing of a triptych from Santa Maria della Scala, Verona. National Gallery, London.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Saint Roch as a Pilgrim, c. 1730, oil on canvas, 46.3 x 32.2 cm, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop.
Carlo Crivelli, Saint Roch, c. 1480, tempera and oil on limewood panel, 40 x 12.1 cm, Wallace Collection, London.
Canaletto, Venice: The Feast Day of Saint Roch, about 1735, oil on canvas, 147.7 x 199.4 cm, National Gallery, London.
Jacopo Tintoretto, The Glorification of Saint Roch, 1564, oil on canvas, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice.
Jacopo Tintoretto, The Crucifixion, 1565, Oil on canvas, 536 x 1224 cm, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice.