Greeks in Venice

A long history

Feast of the Gods, Giovanni Bellini

The Scuola di San Nicolò dei Greci, now the Museo delle Icone, and the Orthodox church next door were the heart of a thriving Greek community in Castello that began with a handful of artists invited in to make the mosaics at Torcello and grew to 15,000 in its heyday – according to the Greeks, who now number a mere handful.

Relations, even if they weren't always happy, between the Greek world and Venice were so close throughout history that a number of Venetian words are derived from the Greek (for example, a ‘fork’ in Italian is a forchetta, but in Venetian it’s a piroun, similiar to the Greek pirouni; the utensil was introduced into western Europe by the Greek wife of an early doge, although at first its use was condemned as effete).

Many Greeks, especially merchants, courtesans and artists, came to Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and Greece. The great Greek humanist scholar Cardinal Bessarion left Venice his library, which attracted numerous scholars (including the famous publisher Aldus). A school of painters from Crete settled in Venice and became known as the ‘Madonneri di Rialto’; the best known of these would pick up a few tricks from Tintoretto and then travel further west, to Spain, and take the name El Greco.

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