The Museo di San Marco is a museum located inside the Convent of San Marco, next to the church of the same name. The convent was founded in 1299 by the Sylvestrine Benedictine monks and later on, in 1436, passed to the Dominican friars. It was located in the historic centre of Florence and it was Cosimo the Elder who made a commitment to Pope Eugene IV to completely renovate it. Cosimo's personal interests were focused on strengthening his political control over the northern parts of the city. The adversities that led to him being exiled from Florence meant that the renovation date was postponed. The convent was renovated by Michelozzo, trusted architect of the Medici family, who designed a traditional plan for the two central cloisters, leaving space for the library and the refectory. The walls were plastered and simply left white in order to enhance the natural brightness of the building. The building is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and follows the lessons learned from Filippo Brunelleschi's and Leon Battista Alberti's constructions.
According to Vasari, Cosimo the Elder spent a lot of money to renovate the convent of San Marco, greatly exceeding the costs of the construction of the family palace. One of the artists called by Cosimo was Fra Angelico, who painted the beautiful cycle of the Crucifixion and the Transfiguration of Christ, a very powerful and expressive work. Thanks to the huge investment, the San Marco complex became the most important cultural and religious centre in Florence, capable of attracting the attention of the most important personalities in that period. During its first century of life, it was the abode of prominent personalities and a reference point for the great representatives of Florentine humanism, such as Pico della Mirandola and Angelo Poliziano, who left their book collections to the Dominican friars's library. The convent became even more famous during Girolamo Savonarola's time. He lived and preached inside San Marco.
At the end of the 15th century, Florence was divided between the Arrabbiati faction, who were followers of the Medici family, and the Piagnoni, who were followers of Savonarola. On 5 April 1498, the bell of the convent of San Marco rang incessantly, to gather the people together, with the aim of defending the church and Girolamo Savonarola from being attacked by his enemies. Savonarola was imprisoned, tried and sentenced to the gallows. From that moment on, the bell no longer had a peaceful existence: after Savonarola's death, his enemies vented their rage upon it. As soon as Savonarola was burned in Piazza della Signoria, the bell was lowered from the bell tower, whipped by the executioner and sent into exile to the church of San Salvatore al Monte. The Signoria decreed that the Piagnona bell had been an accomplice to high treason and, as an enemy of the country, it had to be banished from the city for 50 years. On 5 June 1509, the friars were able to get the bell back and it remained in the bell tower of San Marco until 1908. Later on, it was placed in the cloister of the convent, where it is currently located.
In 1866, the convent was expropriated by the Italian state, which included it among the assets of its public property and converted it into a museum; the Dominicans were left with the management of the Church and the library.
The Convent of San Marco had important ties with the entire world of culture and with personalities such as St Philip Neri, Cesare Guasti and Giorgio La Pira, a member of the Constituent Assembly and Mayor of Florence, who chose to live and be buried in San Marco.