San Marco Florence is a religious complex and a museum as well. Maybe it is not the most famous museum in Florence, but San Marco is a great start to a tour of a Florence at the dawn of the Renaissance.
San Marco Florence: a troubled start
The original monastic complex of the site dates to the XII Century, as a Vallombrosan and then Sylvestrine convent, being both the Vallombrosan and Sylvestrine order related to Benedictine one.
The area was known as “San Marco a Cafaggio” – a cafaggio was an enclosed wood – to distinguish it from “San Marco Vecchio”, an even older Florentine church (San Marco al Mugnone: the Mugnone is a tiny river tributary of the Arno). Archaeological evidence of this phase has been discovered by recent excavations.
The Sylvestrines were accused in 1418 of laxity in the observance of the monastic rule, and supposed to leave.
San Marco and Cosimo de’ Medici: the monastery overhaul
The “evacuation process” took quite a long time and it needed a direct intervention from Pope Eugene IV (1383 – 1447). The Dominican monks gain access to San Marco in 1437. Meanwhile, in 1434 Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder, was back in Florence after the exile.
A supporter of the Dominican order, and a “neighbour” of the monastery (Cosimo lived in the nearby Palazzo Medici – Riccardi) Cosimo decides to back – and fund – the rebuilt of San Marco.
Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi (1396 – 1472), Cosimo’s favourite architect, is in charge of the project. In 1443 – on January 6th, Epiphany, the church is consecrated.
The restoration implies new frescoes and painting as well. The enterprise is a very lucky one, as between the monks there is a very gifted painter: Guido di Pietro, Fra Angelico. But we will speak of Fra Angelico artworks, the more recent restorations and the birth of the San Marco Florence Museum in another post…
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