San Marco Church - interior; panorama

In 1437, Cosimo de' Medici (il Vecchio), grandfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had Michelozzo convert a medieval monastery here into a new home for the Dominicans, in which Cosimo also founded Europe's first public library.

[From 1491 until he was burned at the stake on Piazza della Signoria in 1498, this was the home base of puritanical preacher Girolamo Savonarola.]

The monastery's most famous friar, though, was early Renaissance painter Fra' Angelico, and he left many of his finest works, devotional images painted with the technical skill and minute detail of a miniaturist or an illuminator but on altarpiece scale. While his works tended to be transcendently spiritual, Angelico was also prone to filling them with earthly details with which any peasant or stonemason could identify.

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Church: Church of San Marco

The church itself is no great shakes—dark and moody, with only a few minor works.

It was redesigned by Giambologna, and contains some decent works by his late Renaissance contemporaries, like Alessandro Allori and Il Passignano.

There are also a few nice pieces by Fra' Bartolomeo (don't hold the Savonarola connection against the poor guy; Botticelli became a fervent Savonarola-follower, too) and a cool 8th century mosaic of the Madonna Praying from Constantinople (look closely: you can see the seam where they cut it in half to transport it over here).

In 1984, the church—perhaps embarrassed not to have anything by its most famous one-time resident—placed a small Fra' Angelico Crucifix above the altar.


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Museum:

The museum rooms are entered off a pretty cloister. The old Pilgrim's Hospice has been converted into a Fra' (Beato) Angelico Gallery, full of altarpieces and painted panels. Also off the cloister is the Reffetorio Grande (Great Refectory), with 16th- and 17th-century paintings, and the Sala del Capitolo (Chapter House), frescoed from 1441 to 1442 with a huge Crucifixion by Fra' Angelico and his assistants....


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Entrance to the museum can be found on the right of the church.

Cosimo the Elder commissioned Michelozzo, his trusted architect, to carry out the restoration of the Bell Tower and the crumbling Monastery of the abolished order of Silvestrini Friars.

Angelico (Guido o Guidolino di Pietro, Vicchio di Mugello 1387 - Rome 1455), a friar from the Monastery of San Domenico, moved in here with his brothers and worked on the famous frescoes of the 42 cells, the cloister, the chapter house and the first floor corridors from 1438 to 1446.

Later: This was where Lorenzo the Magnificent, later to be his bitter foe, sent Savonarola,to act as Father Superior, until his martyrdom at the stake - after Lorenzo's death - in Piazza della Signoria.
Bartolomeo della Porta, Renaissance painter and follower of Savonarola, also joined the Dominican community here.


Converted to museum: 

The building came under the control of the Government in 1860 and was opened to the public in 1869. The museum dedicated to Fra Angelico was opened in the 1920's with the help of various financial sources.

[Cloister:
The First Cloister (of Sant'Antonino) is a perfect example of Renaissance monastic architecture, decorated with flower beds and a majestic Cedar of Lebanon. It contains 17th century frescoes and paintings by Fra Angelico.

[Pilogrim's Hospice: 

Fra Angelico's finest paintings on wood - the famous Annalena Altarpiece, the St. Mark Altarpiece, the intense Deposition of the Holy Trinity and the Last Judgement - can be found in the ancient Pilgrims' Hospice.

The Hospice also contains the Tabernacle of the Flax Dressers (1433), carved by Ghiberti and painted by Fra Angelico.

First Cloister
First Cloister
The Chapter House leads off from the Cloister.

Under the portico one can see the bell known as "la piagnona" (the whiner), attributed to Donatello.



[Small Refectory:
The Small Refectory is situated to the right on the ground floor. Here one can admire the fresco of the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1483 circa).

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[Dormitory:

The first floor contains the tiny cells of the monks and has a characteristic ceiling. Fra Angelico's Annuciation can be found at the top of the stairs. The frescoes in the lefthand corridor are by Fra Angelico and his school.

The righthand corridor leads to the Prior's Quarters, (later Savonarola's austere rooms) composed of a vestibule and two small cells.

Savonarola's rooms:
The cell he used as a study contains some momentos of his life while the one in which he slept contains the crucifix, by the school of Fra Angelico, which Savonarola used during his sermons.