Florence art guide

Museum of St. Mark or Fra Angelico

Frescoes in the cells
Frescoes in the cells - Fra Angelico


Entrance to the museum can be found on the right of the church. Cosimo the Elder commissioned Michelozzo, his trusted architect, to carry out the restoration of the Bell Tower and the crumbling Monastery of the abolished order of Silvestrini Friars. Angelico (Guido o Guidolino di Pietro, Vicchio di Mugello 1387 - Rome 1455), a friar from the Monastery of San Domenico, moved in here with his brothers and worked on the famous frescoes of the 42 cells, the cloister, the chapter house and the first floor corridors from 1438 to 1446.
This was where Lorenzo the Magnificent, later to be his bitter foe, sent Savonarola,to act as Father Superior, until his martyrdom at the stake - after Lorenzo's death - in Piazza della Signoria.
Bartolomeo della Porta, Renaissance painter and follower of Savonarola, also joined the Dominican community here.
The building came under the control of the Government in 1860 and was opened to the public in 1869. The museum dedicated to Fra Angelico was opened in the 1920's with the help of various financial sources.
The First Cloister (of Sant'Antonino) is a perfect example of Renaissance monastic architecture, decorated with flower beds and a majestic Cedar of Lebanon. It contains 17th century frescoes and paintings by Fra Angelico, whose finest paintings on wood - the famous Annalena Altarpiece, the St. Mark Altarpiece, the intense Deposition of the Holy Trinity and the Last Judgement - can be found in the ancient Pilgrims' Hospice. The Hospice also contains the Tabernacle of the Flax Dressers (1433), carved by Ghiberti and painted by Fra Angelico.

First Cloister
First Cloister

The Chapter House leads off from the Cloister. Under the portico one can see the bell known as "la piagnona" (the whiner), attributed to Donatello, which was rung in vain to summon the crowds on the day that Savonarola was arrested. Savonarola and his followers were called "piagnoni" for their appeal for divine chastisement against the corruption of the times.
The first floor contains the tiny cells of the monks and has a characteristic ceiling. Fra Angelico's Annuciation can be found at the top of the stairs. The frescoes in the lefthand corridor are by Fra Angelico and his school.
The righthand corridor leads to the Prior's Quarters, Savonarola's austere rooms, composed of a vestibule and two small cells. The cell he used as a study contains some momentos of his life while the one in which he slept contains the crucifix, by the school of Fra Angelico, which Savonarola used during his sermons.
The Small Refectory is situated to the right on the ground floor. Here one can admire the fresco of the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1483 circa).

Last Supper
Last Supper by D.Ghirlandaio

Outside, where Piazza San Marco is joined by Via degli Arazzieri, one can see the Neomannerist Palazzina di Livia (by Bernardo Fallani in 1775), which Pietro Leopoldo of Lorraine had built for the ballerina Livia Malfatti. Further ahead, where Via degli Arazzieri meets Via San Gallo, one can find the Cenacolo or Last Supper of the ancient monastery of Sant'Apollonia. This contains the Museum of Andrea Del Castagno, with a fine fresco of the Last Supper (1450 c.) in the ancient refectory. It also preserves some fragments of the frescoes carried out by Domenico Veneziano and Piero della Francesca for the church of Sant'Egidio.
Returning to the exit of the Museum of St. Mark in Via Cavour, on the right one can see a plaque commemorating the Ancient Academy of St. Mark, where Michelangelo, despite his father's mercantile ambitions for him, began to study sculpture thanks to Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The Casino of St. Mark by Buontalenti (1574), today the headquarters of the Appeal Courts, stands on the opposite side of the road, at the far end of the high garden wall of Palazzina di Livia. Further along Via Cavour one can find the Cloisters dello Scalzo (Barefoot), named for the bare feet of the person who carried the Cross in processions, the ancient headquarters of the Confraternity of St. John the Baptist. It can be visited on request to the custodian. It contains a series of 16 frescoes in monochrome chiaroscuro carried out by Andrea Del Sarto with the help of Franciabigio from 1507 to 1526.
The University stands on the other side of the Museum, in Via Lamarmora, while the pretty 14th century loggia at the top of Via Ricasoli was once the ancient seat of the hospital of San Matteo and now hosts the Academy of Fine Arts.

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