The Dominican Observant convent of San Marco was built starting 1436 and frescoed almost in its entirety by Fra Angelico from 1440-50 (approx.). It is a marvel of the effective use of painting in functional, religious spaces.

Fra Angelico annunciation at the top of stairs
Fra Angelico annunciation fresco in San Marco

A small museum contains panel paintings by Fra Angelico (to the right of the entrance door, off the courtyard). The courtyard also gives access to a chapter house (where the friars held daily meetings), with a large painting of a Crucifixion. On this same level (not off the courtyard but through a set of doors) is a refectory which doubles as a gift shop. Through this same doorway there is a stairway that leads to the friar’s “dormitory”, a series of 44 cells. Each friar had his own cell, and each cell contains a simple painting by Fra Angelico or members of his workshop.

San Marco courtyard, photo: flickr @ ericparker

These austerely simple works make an interesting comparison to the more public, decorative panel paintings housed below. On this floor, in the opposite direction from the cells, don’t miss the library designed by Michelozzo, and the cell at the far end which belonged to Cosimo de’ Medici himself, patron of the entire complex.

Arttrav offers a podcast of San Marco to lead you through these spaces.

Museo di San Marco Opening hours:
Weekday timetable: 8.15am-1.50pm, Sat 8.15am-4.50pm
Holiday timetable: 8.15am-4.50pm
[ Open on the 2nd and 4th Sun of every month] Closed:Mon
[Note: Open on the 1st, 3rd and 5th Mon of every month]

Sign up to receive future blog posts by email