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'Scuola' was the Venetian term for a confraternity. Most male Venetians belonged to one, except for the nobles, who, however, sometimes served as patrons or trustees.

The largest were the 'Scuole Grandi', of which there were five in 1500, with 500-600 members, while there were over a hundred 'Scuole Piccole'. The 'Scuole Grandi' had originally been founded as societies for self-flagellation, but became charitable societies, giving dowries for poor girls, and burying their less well-off members. Foreign communities in Venice formed their own 'Scuole'. Each 'Scuola' had its rule book, the 'Mariegola'.

Their meeting halls were often architecturally distinguished; some of them were decorated by such artists as Carpaccio, Gentile Bellini, Titian and Tintoretto.