Museo nazionale di San Marco
The Museo di San Marco is one of the many museums in Florence that you shouldn’t miss when visiting the city. The museum is located inside an ancient Dominican convent, located next to the homonymous Church of San Marco, which overlooks the square of the same name. The main reason to visit this museum, in addition to the beauty of the rooms in which it is housed, is the presence of the most important collection in the world of works created by Beato Angelico, one of the greatest masters of the Renaissance. In addition to the works of Beato Angelico, here you can admire many other masterpieces created by Fra Bartolomeo, Alessio Baldovinetti, Bernardino Poccetti, Domenico and Ridolfo Ghirlandaio.
Visit to the Museo di San Marco
The visit to the San Marco museum begins in the beautiful cloister of Sant’Antonino. Built by Michelozzo in the first half of the 15th century, the cloister is the beating heart of the convent; from here you can access all the main rooms of the complex such as the church, the hospice, the refectory, the Chapter room and access to the various rooms of the museum.
Here begins the museum itinerary and also the discovery of the great art of Beato Angelico. The decorations of the lunettes on the doors are his work, as is the magnificent fresco with the Crucifixion of San Domenico which is located in the north-west corner. The cycle of frescoes dedicated to the life of Sant’Antonino was created at the turn of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by Bernardino Poccetti, Lorenzo Cerrini and Alessandro Tiarini.
Moving towards the sala dell’Ospizio, originally designed to accommodate the more modest pilgrims, you can admire some of the most beautiful panel paintings by Fra Angelico. It begins with the Deposition, a magnificent altarpiece begun by Lorenzo Monaco and completed by Beato Angelico after the death of Monaco (1424). This is followed by the Triptych of San Pietro Martire, which closely resembles the style of Masaccio and the Pala d’Annalena, which is considered one of the first fully Renaissance works. Also in the same room we also find the Last Judgment, which comes from the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Turning instead to the Altarpiece of San Marco, made for the altar of the church of the same name, we note how one of the greatest masterpieces of Beato Angelico was completely ruined by a nineteenth-century restoration, taking away much of its original beauty. Also in the Hospice room is the Silver Wardrobe, a fifteenth-century votive door decorated with 35 tablets painted with biblical episodes.
It closes with the Lamentation over the Dead Christ, the Sacred Conversation and the Tabernacle of the Linaioli, built between 1433 and 1434 in collaboration with Lorenzo Ghiberti.
Sala del Capitolo
We pass to the sala del Capitolo, where the great work of the Crucifixion stands out, one of the greatest masterpieces of the painter friar: Vasari narrates that the artist himself is moved to tears during its realization. The scene, which is characterized by a great contemplative spirit, lacks a real background, thus bringing attention not so much to the details of the work, but to its sacredness and symbolic value.
In the Chapter room there is also a crucifix sculpted in 1496 by Baccio da Montelupo and a lunette from the cloister, also by Beato Angelico.
Sala del Lavabo
In the sala del Lavabo, formerly used by monks for cleaning before meals, you can see the Last Judgment, begun by Fra Bartolomeo and completed by Mariotto Albertinelli, which comes from the arcispedale di Santa Maria Nuova.
Located next to the Lavabo room, the Refettorio Grande was the hall used by the monks for their main meals. In the refectory we find the fresco with the Providence of the Dominicans by Giovanni Antonio Sogliani, from the sixteenth century, as well as other frescoes and tables by Sogliano himself, such as the Madonna della Cintola, the Madonna with Tobiolo, St. Francis and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
In addition to the works of Sogliani there are also a series of sixteenth-century paintings of the so-called school of San Marco, a Madonna della Cintola by Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, a Crucifixion by Lorenzo Lippi, the San Carlo Borromeo giving a bolla to a Dominican by Jacopo Ligozzi and even more.
Sala di Fra’ Bartolomeo
In the sala di Fra’ Bartolomeo we can see the unfinished Pala della Signoria, which was originally intended for the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio, the Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola and a series of effigies, coming from the convent of Santa Maria Maddalena in Caldine.
In the Refettorio Piccolo we find one of the most beautiful and important works of this museum: the Cenacle of San Marco. Made by Domenico Ghirlandaio with some collaborators in 1486, this fresco resumes the setting of the Cenacle of Ognissanti, also made by Ghirlandaio a few years earlier. Here the last supper is represented in an open environment, a loggia, rendered in a perspective way according to the use of Renaissance painting.
First floor of the convent of San Marco
Going up to the first floor of the convent you reach the library and the cells where the monks slept. When Michelozzo designed the complex, he made sure that large smooth spaces were created on the walls, perfect for being frescoed. This allowed Beato Angelico to create the largest pictorial decoration ever made in a convent up to that time. It was a large project that took years to complete, from 1439 to 1443, and which involved other artists as well as Angelico. The decorative cycle affects both the common areas of the convent and the monks’ private lodgings, developing along 3 corridors and 44 cells.
Among the most important works, we can admire the Annunciation, which is also one of the most famous works by Beato Angelico, the series with the Crucifix of San Domenico and the Madonna delle Ombre, whose name derives from the particular realization of lights and shadows that were realized taking inspiration from the way in which the light acted in the corridor.
Biblioteca di Michelozzo
The museum itinerary ends with a visit to the Michelozzo Library. Built at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici, this beautiful library has a large reading room spread over three naves for a length of 45 meters. The spaces are marked by Ionic columns that support cross vaults on the sides and barrel vaults in the center. This library as it was designed and built is a true Renaissance masterpiece; as it was designed, the light had to come from windows placed on opposite sides, thus minimizing the presence of shadows inside the classroom.
Like any self-respecting library, Michelozzo’s Library also has an important collection of illuminated manuscripts. These are exhibited in rotation, so from time to time you can admire always different books. Among the most important is certainly the Missal 558 illuminated by Beato Angelico for the convent of San Domenico di Fiesole.
Information on the San Marco Museum: opening hours, tickets and prices
The San Marco Museum is located in Piazza San Marco 3 in Florence.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday with the following hours: 8.15 – 13.50.
Also on the 1st and 3rd Monday of the month the museum is open from 8.15 to 13.50 while it is closed on the 2nd and 4th Monday.
Sunday works the other way around: the museum is open on the 2nd and 4th Sunday (always 8.15 – 13.50) and is closed on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Sunday.
The full ticket costs 8 euros, while the reduced ticket, reserved for citizens of the European Union between 18 and 25 years old, costs 2 euros.
For more information and to check for any time changes, I leave you the link to the official website.