Museum of San Marco


Info

Opening hours: Monday-Friday 8:15am-1:30pm; Saturday & Sunday 8:15am-4.30pm. Except closed second and fourth Monday and first, third and fifth Sunday of each month.

Closing days: January 1, Christmas Day, May 1.

Admission: € 4.00.
Concessions available.

The Chiostro dello Scalzo is open on Monday and Thursday from 8:15 to 1:30pm (free admission).


Description

The San Marco museum is a unique site to visit in Florence, being a perfect example of an early 15th century monastery, preserved and restored magnificently. The highlight is the upper floor of the museum, where is it possible to visit the original monks' cells, each individually and carefully frescoed in the understated and timeless style of Beato Angelico, better known as Fra Angelico, and his workshop.

Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455) initially received training in painting illuminated manuscripts, and the very detailed, precise work and craftsmanship of his hand can still be detected in his paintings and frescoes. He was a painter during a time of great change in the Florentine artworld, from that of late medieval, gothic style to the new, fluid, humanistic Renaissance and his works linger on the edge of these two eras, making his a totally unique and distinctive style. There are two exceptional cells to visit. One is the room of the Prior, the fanatical Savonarola, while the other side of the floor holds the honorary cell of Cosimo the Elder de' Medici, his own personal retreat for times of private meditation, more elaborately frescoed than the regular cells with a large Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico and Benozzo Gozzoli. The Medici family had a strong connection to the convent of San Marco seeing as Cosimo the Elder had funded the entire restoration and renovation of the complex in the mid-1400's. Renaissance poet and best friend of Lorenzo the Magnificent, Agnolo Poliziano, is also buried in San Marco.

The controversial Savonarola (1452-1498) was Prior here for over a decade, having arrived in Florence in 1481 during the height of the Renaissance in all of its beautiful and flamboyant glory. Savonarola fiercely opposed the Renaissance and everything that went with it, preaching to the Florentines to get rid of these evil ways, denouncing art, gambling, drinking, whoring, expensive clothes and the Medici family. Florence essentially fell under Savonarola's spell, even Lorenzo the Magnificent had him visit while on his death bed in 1492. The famous “Bonfire of the Vanities” of 1497 was the best example of these ideals, where Savonarola sent groups of boys out to collect, door by door, the citizens' best and finest dresses, cosmetics, mirrors, musical instruments, game pieces, the works of “immoral” or pagan poets and paintings to throw into a burning fire in the middle of Piazza della Signoria. Even paintings by Botticelli were destroyed, allegedly by the artist himself who felt so guilty he threw them into the fire on his own accord.

But Savonarola went too far. For a brief period, he was essentially the ruler of Florence. One of his first acts was to make homosexuality a capital offence, punishable by death, sending many Florentines, including the elite, out of the city. The Florentines grew tired of him, as did the Pope, Alexander VI, who issued many warnings against him and eventually excommunicated him. When all else failed, the Pope ordered his execution, held in Piazza della Signoria, over a burning pyre, where Savonarola and two of his followers were chained. Their ashes were scattered in the Arno River. There is now a round plaque in Piazza della Signoria on the very spot of the execution to commemorate the life of Savonarola.

From the exit of the Museum of San Marco, turn left and then first right. The Chiostro dello Scalzo is a few metres along on the left hand side. Andrea del Sarto's fresco cycle of the story of St John the Baptist in the Chiostro dello Scalzo is for many his masterpiece. Gracious, harmonious Mannerist figuring together with the monochrome technique known as grisaille, often used as a classicising effect, Andrea del Sarto has created one of the most elegant and sophisticated spaces in the city.


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