San Marco, Florence
History and museums
San Marco is the name of a religious complex in Florence, Italy. It comprises a church and a convent. The convent, which is now a museum, has three claims to fame. During the 15th century it was home to two famous Dominicans, the painter Fra Angelico and the preacher Girolamo Savonarola. Also housed at the convent is a famous collection of manuscripts in a library built by Michelozzo.
The present convent occupies the site where a Vallombrosan monastery existed in the 12th century, which later passed to Benedictine monks of the Silvestrine line. In 1435 the Benedictines were replaced by Dominicans from the Convent of San Domenico in Fiesole. Two years later, they appealed to Cosimo de' Medici the Elder, who lived nearby in the family palace, now known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, to fund the renovation of the entire complex. The works were entrusted to Michelozzo. Each cell of the monks cloister and many other walls were decorated by Fra Angelico in collaboration with others, including Benozzo Gozzoli. Cosimo de' Medici had a cell at the convent for his personal retreat.
San Marco is famous as the seat of Girolamo Savonarola's discourses during his short spiritual rule in Florence in the late 15th century.
The church was consecrated in 1443, in the presence of Pope Eugene IV. It has a single nave with side chapels designed in the late 16th century by Giambologna, and housing paintings from the 16th–17th centuries. In the late 17th century the tribune and the carved ceiling were also realized. A further renovation was carried on in 1678 by Pier Francesco Silvani. The façade, in Neo-Classical style, was built in 1777–1778.
Among the artworks, the most ancient is a 14th-century crucifix in the counter-façade. The crucifix on the high altar is by Angelico (1425–1428). In the first altar to the right is St. Thomas Praying by Santi di Tito from 1593, while on the second altar is a Madonna with Saints by Fra Bartolomeo.
Giambologna completed the Cappella di Sant'Antonino (also known as Salviati Chapel) in May 1589. The Salviati family had been linked by marriage to the Medici (Pope Leo XI was the son of Francesca Salviati, the daughter of Giacomo Salviati and Lucrezia de' Medici. The interior was decorated in fresco with a Translation and Funeral of St. Antonino Perozzi by Domenico Passignano. The dome of the chapel is by Bernardino Poccetti, also author of frescoes in the Sacrament Chapel. The latter also has canvases by Santi di Tito, Crespi, Francesco Morandini, Jacopo da Empoli, and Francesco Curradi.
Significant figures buried in San Marco include Giovanni Pico della Mirandola and the poet Angelo Poliziano.
Michelozzo built for Cosimo de' Medici a sober, though comfortable, Renaissance edifice, including the elegant cloister and, above all, the Library, which, under the reign of Lorenzo il Magnifico became one of the favourite meeting points for Florentine humanists such as Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola, who could conveniently consult here texts in Latin and Greek language.
The convent was stripped from the Dominicans in 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, and again in 1866, when it became a possession of the state.
The convent is now home to the Museo Nazionale di San Marco. The entrance to the museum is from the so-called Cloister of St. Antoninus, frescoed by Bernardino Poccetti in the 16th-17th century.
The museum houses the major collection of works by Fra Angelico. Panel paintings included the Deposition executed for Palla Strozzi, the San Marco Altarpiece commissioned by the Medici in 1440, and a Tabernacle of the Linaioli (1433–1435) whose frame was designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti. There are also a great number of small frescoes by Angelico and his assistants in the monastic cells and a number of larger frescoes including the Annunciation. His masterwork is the complex Crucifixion in the Capitular Hall, finished in 1442.
The museum exhibits works by other artists including Domenico Ghirlandaio, a reduced scale version of the Last Supper in the church of Ognissanti; Alesso Baldovinetti, Giovanni Antonio Sogliani and Fra Bartolomeo. The cells where Girolamo Savonarola lived can also be visited.