Founded in the 13th century, the convent was enlarged in 1437 by the architect Michelozzo, when Dominican monks from nearby Fiesole moved there invited by Cosimo the Elder who financed the renovation of the convent. Consecrated in 1443, this building hosted personalities such as Sant' Antonino Pierozzi, Bishop of Florence, Beato Angelico (about 1400-1450), and later Girolamo Savonarola.
Opened to the public in 1869, after long structural and fresco restoration projects, the Museum of San Marco houses the largest collection of sacred art in Florence.
Your museum visit begins with the Cloister of Sant' Antonino designed by Michelozzo.
To the right of the entrance to the 16th century cloister is the access to the Alms House, at one time used for welcoming guests and providing shelter for pilgrims. Today it houses the paintings of Beato Angelico, such as the Pala di San Marco (considered the most important painting ever commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici) and the Pala di Annalena (representing Mary with the child in “Holy Conversation” with six saints). Nearby is the Large Refectory which houses religious works from the 16th and 18th centuries. A fresco by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani fills an entire wall, sharing the space with a collection of works by Mariotto Albertinelli.
Your visit continues to the Sala del Lavabo where the frescos of Beato Angelico and Paolo Uccello underline the sacredness of the environment. From here, you'll access the Sala di Fra Bartolomeo, dedicated to the Baccio della Porta (Fra Bartolomeo's nickname, as his childhood home was near the gate). Next, you'll come to the Sala di Alessio Baldovinetti, which houses the Stendardo or banner portraying Sant' Antonino in adoration of the Crucifix, carried in processions in times past.
Your visit continues to the Chapter House which is dominated by the Crucifixion by Fra Angelico, a work of great artistic depth that emanates luminous spiritual energy. As you come to the Small Refectory or the Sala del Cenacolo (Last Supper), you'll see the Last Supper fresco by Domenico Ghirlandaio. The following rooms form part of the Foresteria or guest quarters, and are dedicated to ancient Florence.
On the floor above, enclosed within the walls of the Sant' Antonino monastery, you will find the Cells of the cloistered monks. The small cells are decorated with frescoes by Fra Beato Angelico depicting religious themes – such as crucifixions and depositions, which recall the penitence of the monks. There is also the splendid Annunciation at the entrance, believed by many to be the painter's most important artistic creation.
Your visit of the San Marco Museum ends with the Cells of Savonarola, three rooms in which the famous priest lived. Near the entryway on the first floor is the Library created in accordance with the design by Michelozzo. The library has three small naves: the two lateral naves with crossed vaulting, and the central nave with its barrel vault. Originally, the library contained 64 benches for consultation and the miniature work of the monks. Today it houses precious antiques, missals, parts of sacred hymns and miniature texts elaborated with extreme patience and attention to detail by artists such as Beato Angelico, one of whose miniature missals is preserved here.