In 1437, Cosimo de' Medici il Vecchio, grandfather of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had Michelozzo convert a medieval monastery here into a new home for the Dominicans, in which Cosimo also founded Europe's first public library. From 1491 until he was burned at the stake on Piazza della Signoria in 1498, this was the home base of puritanical preacher Girolamo Savonarola. The monastery's most famous friar, though, was early Renaissance painter Fra' Angelico, and he left many of his finest works, devotional images painted with the technical skill and minute detail of a miniaturist or an illuminator but on altarpiece scale. While his works tended to be transcendently spiritual, Angelico was also prone to filling them with earthly details with which any peasant or stonemason could identify.
The museum rooms are entered off a pretty cloister. The old Pilgrim's Hospice has been converted into a Fra' (Beato) Angelico Gallery, full of altarpieces and painted panels. Also off the cloister is the Reffetorio Grande (Great Refectory), with 16th- and 17th-century paintings, and the Sala del Capitolo (Chapter House), frescoed from 1441 to 1442 with a huge Crucifixion by Fra' Angelico and his assistants. The door next to this leads past the staircase up to the Dormitory to the Sala del Cenacolo (Small Refectory), with a long fresco of the Last Supper by Domenico Ghirlandaio.
The Dormitorio (Dormitory) of cells where the monks lived is one of Fra' Angelico's masterpieces and perhaps his most famous cycle of frescoes. In addition to the renowned Annunciation at the top of the stairs to the monks' rooms, Angelico painted the cells themselves with simple works to aid his fellow friars in their meditations. One of these almost anticipates surrealism -- a flagellation where disembodied hands strike at Christ's face and a rod descends on him from the blue-green background. Angelico's assistants carried out the repetitious Crucifixion scenes in many of the cells. At the end of one of the corridors is the suite of cells occupied by Savonarola when he was here prior. In the first are two famous portraits of him by his devout follower and talented painter Fra' Bartolomeo, along with an anonymous 16th-century painting of Savonarola Burned at the Stake on Piazza della Signoria. The Biblioteca (Library) off the corridor to the right of the stairs was designed by Michelozzo in 1441 and contains beautifully illuminated choir books.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010