The Four Ospedali
The four Ospedali Grandi were charitable institutions that offered boarding, care, and education to the sick, orphaned, and impoverished in Venice. Spurred by financial imperatives and Venice’s insatiable musical appetite , the boards of the ospedali increasingly prioritized the musical education of its girls until the institutions doubled as world class music conservatories and the source of some of the greatest musical performances of the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Pietà--for Ospedale della Pietà or House of Mercy–exclusively took in foundlings and orphans.
The Incurabili–for Ospedale degl’Incurabili or Hospice for the Incurably Ill–took in the sick, orphans, and reformed prostitutes.
The Derelitti–for Ospedalle dei Santa Maria dei Derelitti or St. Mary’s Home for Waifs–took in orphans, beggars, and the sick .
The Mendicanti–for Ospedali di San Lazaro e dei Mendicanti–initially took in lepers, and later beggars, orphans, widows, and elderly. (Arnold, 1988; Baldauf-Berdes, 1993)
The churches of the Pieta (the second church), Derelitti, and Mendicanti are all located in the Castello sestieri (neighborhood) of Venice within a short walk of one another. The church of the Incurabili, once located on the Giudecca Canal in Dorsoduno, no longer stands housing the Academy of Fine Arts (Larson, 1977).
The term ospedali can be a confusing one. Directly translated from the Italian, it means hospital, but the Ospedale della Pieta, did not care for the sick, and the other three ospedale had many objectives other than healing. All of the Ospedali Grandi took in orphans, but to call them orphanages would be incomplete as among the four, they took in sick, elderly, travellers, and the poor, as well as members of the privileged classes seeking both a general and musical education. The cori di ospedali (cori being plural for coro) can be an equally confusing term, referring to the conservatories at each ospedale, which included both instrumentalists and vocalists. The names of each ospedale are sometimes discussed synonymously with the cori of each ospedale but, in fact, the population of each cori, made up less than one half (often as little as ten percent) of each ospedale at a time.
Arnold, D. (1988). Music at the ‘Ospedali’ Journal of the Royal Musical Association113(2), 156-167.