Church and convent of San Marco in Florence
The Basilica of San Marco in Florence is not among the most popular churches for tourists and is often not included in the itineraries for visiting the city. This church, however, is located in the historic center of the city, overlooking the homonymous Piazza San Marco, and is full of works of art as well as its convent which has housed the San Marco Museum since 1869.
Many prominent personalities of the culture and spirituality of the fifteenth century are linked to this church. Among these characters we find names of the caliber of Cosimo the Elder, Beato Angelico, Frà Bartolomeo and Girolamo Savonarola, a friar who had a role of primary importance in the political, civil and religious life of Florence at the end of the 1400s.
History of the Basilica of San Marco
Once, before the creation of the current complex, an oratory dedicated to St. George existed here. In the 12th century, the monks of Vallombrosa settled here and founded their own monastery. Subsequently the monastic complex passed to the Silvestrini monks. Since these monks came from the church of San Marco Vecchio, they decided to also dedicate this church to the saint evangelist.
In 1418, Pope Eugene IV forced the Silvestrini to abandon the convent of San Marco which was then entrusted to the Dominicans in 1435. Two years later, Cosimo the Elder de’ Medici took charge of the restructuring of the complex which was located a short distance from the Medici residence of then, what we know today as Palazzo Medici Riccardi. Cosimo entrusted the project to his trusted architect Michelozzo, while Beato Angelico was called for the wall decoration who worked on it between 1439 and 1444 together with Benozzo Gozzoli and other collaborators.
The bell tower was built in 1512 on a project by Baccio d’Agnolo. The current facade dates back to 1777 and is the work of Fra’ Giovan Battista Paladini.
Although part of the convent was converted into a museum in 1869, a community of Dominican friars resided here until 2019. Today, the Dominicans always take care of the church of San Marco, but they are those of Santa Maria Novella.
As already mentioned, the facade of the Basilica of San Marco was built in 1777 by Fra’ Giovan Battista Paladini. Of clear neoclassical inspiration, the façade is divided into three orders. In the center there is a single portal while on the sides there are two niches that house as many statues. Among the numerous decorative elements we find festoons, bas-reliefs, ribbons and richly carved capitals.
Entering the church we find a single wide nave with numerous side chapels that were designed in the second half of the sixteenth century by Giambologna. On the walls you can see the remains of some frescoes dating back to the fourteenth century while in the chapels you can admire various paintings of extraordinary workmanship.
On the counter façade there are the most important 14th-century remains such as the Crucifix from the Orcagna school and an Annunciation. The canvas with the Transfiguration is by Giovan Battista Paggi.
In the altars on the right there are an altarpiece by di Santi di Tito depicting from 1593 with the Vision of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Madonna and saints by Fra Bartolomeo (1509 circa), a mosaic of the Virgin from St. Peter in the Vatican and a Madonna of the Rosary by Matteo Rosselli.
On the left, however, we find the Miracle of San Vincenzo Ferrer del Passignano, the mystical Marriage of Santa Caterina by Anton Domenico Gabbiani and the canvas of Heraclius carrying the cross by Cigoli. On the sides of the latter there are the monuments of Pico della Mirandola and Poliziano which are buried here.
The crucifix on the main altar was made by Beato Angelico between 1425 and 1428. The dome, designed by Angelo Ferri in 1712, is decorated with frescoes by Alessandro Gherardini. The canvas in the center of the ceiling with the Assumption of the Virgin is the work of Giovanni Antonio Pucci (1725).
Also called the chapel of the Sacrament, the Serragli chapel is located to the left of the presbytery. Begun at the end of the sixteenth century, the chapel is richly frescoed by Santi di Tito and Bernardino Poccetti. The altarpiece, with the Communion of the Apostles, was begun by Santi di Tito and finished by his son Tiberius. The canvases on the walls are the work of Passignano, Francesco Curradi and Empoli.
Always on the left we also find the Salviati Chapel, where the remains of Sant’Antonino are preserved. Designed by Giambologna, the chapel was largely decorated by Alessandro Allori. The bronze bas-reliefs with stories from the life of Saint Anthony are the work of Giambologna and collaborators. Finally, in the vestibule of the chapel there are two large frescoes, the Translation and the Recognition of the body of Sant’Antonino, both by Passignano.
Opening hours of the Basilica of San Marco in Florence
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: from 9.30 to 12.30 and from 15.00 to 19.00
Wednesday: from 16.30 to 19.00
Sunday and holidays: calle 10.00 to 12.30 and from 16.30 to 19.00