The Albanian School of Venice

Author: Signorina Sandra Rossi

A relief sculpure

A relief sculpure commemorating the seiges of Scutari in 1474 and 1479. The Sultan, Mehmed II, turbanned and crowned and accompanied by his Grand Vizier, stands holding a scimitar below a cliff on which is perched the fort of Scutari.

It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the beautiful city of Venice in Italy was settled by progenitors of the Albanians, the Illyrian tribe of the Veneti, around 1200 BC. Equally interesting may be the fact that an Albanian School (Scuola Albanesi)in the sense of a lay confraternity dedicated to charitable works was established in Venice in 1479 by Albanian refugees who fled from the Turks after the fall of Shkodra, and that the famous Venetian artist, Carpaccio, was retained by them to paint the decorations of their building. Although the school building, now unmarked, exists today as a residential dwelling, it still retains its bas relief sculpture (shown below) over the front entrance commemorating the
Turkish seiges of Shkodra in 1474 and 1479.

Distinguished painters who emerged from that Albanian community in Venice were Mark Bazaiti, Viktor Karpaci, and Francesco Albani. Below is a description of the Albanian School:

“The Scuola di Santa Maria degli Albanesi had been founded in 1442 for the special benefit of the Albanian community. Following the fall of Scutari (Shkodra) to the Turks in 1479, a number of refugees fled to Venice, where they received assistance from the Signoria (Government of the Venetian Republic). In 1497 the group resolved to build a meeting-house next to the church of San Maurizio, observing that ‘even the Armenians have their own hostel and we have none.’

“When it came to the decoration of the building, Carpaccio was the chosen artist. His six scenes from the Life of the Virgin indicate, however, that other commissions may have had first priority on his attentions. The paintings for the Albanesi are of low quality by comparison with those of the Scuola di San Giorgi, and were probably carried out to a large degree by his workshop. A document of 1503 noted that the majority of the members were artisans and mariners, indicating that the financial resources of the Scuola were very meagre. Carpaccio must have been at the height of his fame during the years in which he painted for the Dalmatians and the Albanesi.

“In a final decorative flourish that documents their long memories and continuing concern for the fate of their homeland, the confratelli of the Albanesi completed the facade of their building around 1530 with a relief sculpure commemorating the seiges of Scutari in 1474 and 1479. The Sultan, Mehmed II, turbanned and crowned and accompanied by his Grand Vizier, stands holding a scimitar below a cliff on which is perched the fort of Scutari. The heroes of each battle — respectively, Antonio Loredan and Antonio da Lezze — were honored by the inclusion of their coats-of-arms. “*

* Pages 70-72, Venetian Narrative Painting in the Age of Carpaccio, Patricia Fortini Brown, Yale University Press, New Haven and London The Frosina Foundation wishes to express its gratitude to Signorina Sandra Rossi of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum Collection in Venice for providing access to the above information.

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