Museo di San Marco

Lonely Planet review

At the heart of Florence's university area sits the Chiesa di San Marco and adjoining 15th-century Dominican monastery where both gifted painter Fra' Angelico (c 1395-1455) and the sharp-tongued Savonarola piously served God. Today the monastery showcases the work of Fra' Angelico. It is one of Florence's most spiritually uplifting museums.

Enter via Michelozzo's Cloister of Saint Antoninus (1440). Turn immediately right to enter the Sala dell'Ospizio (Pilgrims' Hospital) where Fra' Angelico's attention to perspective and the realistic portrayal of nature comes to life in a number of major paintings, including the Deposition of Christ (1432), originally commissioned for the church of Santa Trìnita.

Giovanni Antonio Sogliani's fresco The Miraculous Supper of St Domenic (1536) dominates the former monks' refectory in the cloister; and Fra' Angelico's huge Crucifixion and Saints fresco (1441-42) decorates the former chapterhouse. But it is the 44 monastic cells on the 1st floor that are the most haunting: at the top of the stairs, Fra' Angelico's most famous work, Annunciation (c 1440), commands all eyes.

A stroll around each of the cells reveals snippets of many more fine religious reliefs by the Tuscan-born friar, who decorated the cells between 1440 and 1441 with deeply devotional frescoes to guide the meditation of his fellow friars. Most were executed by Fra' Angelico himself; others are by aides under his supervision, including Benozzo Gozzoli. Among several masterpieces is the magnificent Adoration of the Magi in the cell used by Cosimo the Elder as a meditation retreat (Nos 38 to 39). Quite a few of the frescoes are extremely gruesome - check out the cell of San Antonino Arcivescovo, which features a depiction of Jesus pushing open the door of his sepulchre, squashing a nasty-looking devil in the process. After centuries of being known as 'Il Beato Angelico' (literally 'The Blessed Angelic One') or simply 'Il Beato' (The Blessed), the Renaissance's most blessed religious painter was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Contrasting with the pure beauty of these frescoes are the plain rooms that Savonarola called home from 1489. Rising to the position of prior at the Dominican convent, it was from here that the fanatical monk railed against luxury, greed and corruption of the clergy. Kept as a kind of shrine to the turbulent priest, they house a portrait, a few personal items, the linen banner Savonarola carried in processions and a grand marble monument erected by admirers in 1873.