of the most highly venerated Marian shrines in Florence,
the church was founded in 1250 as the Oratory of
Cafaggio, by the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite
Order. These noble Florentines, having been vouchsafed
a vision of the Virgin, retired from the city to
a wild hermitage at Monte Senario, north of Florence.
The history of their new Oratory is closely connected
to the cultus of a painting of the Madonna, showing
the Annunciation, which is still preserved in a
chapel at the entrance to the basilica. Popular
piety relates that the fourteenth-century artist,
a certain Friar Bartolomeo, was having difficulty
in painting the face of the Virgin, when he fell
asleep; on waking he found that the fresco had been
finished by angelic hands. The religious fervour aroused by this reported miracle led to the church being enclosed by houses in the 14th century as people wanted to be near the place where the miracle had happened.
The present structure took
shape between 1444 and 1477, when Michelozzo began
the tribune with its radiating chapels, later finished
by Leon Battista Alberti.
Towards the end of the
15th century the height of the nave was increased.
The church was consecrated in 1516.
the central arch of the portico, built in 1601 by
the architect Giovanni Battista Caccini, there are
traces of frescoes painted between 1513 and 1514
by Pontormo, and the central doorway is surmounted
by a mosaic of the Annunciation by Davide Ghirlandaio
From the portico we enter the cloister,
known as the cloister of the ‘Voti’,
because it used to be filled with votive pictures
and wax statues decorated with precious ornaments.
Today it is famous especially for its magnificent
frescoes: the earliest is Alesso Baldovinetti’s
Nativity, painted in 1460; Cosimo Rosselli’s
Calling of St Philip Benizzi dates from 1476; the
other episodes from the life of the Saint were painted
by the young Andrea del Sarto in 1510.
of the Virgin was narrated in the second decade
of the sixteenth century by the youngest and most
promising artists of the day: Rosso Fiorentino painted
the Assumption, Pontormo the Visitation, and Fraciabigio
the Betrothal of the Virgin. Andrea del Sarto, who
had already worked on the St Philip Benizzi frescoes,
painted between 1511 and 1514 the Nativity of the
Virgin and the Arrival of the Magi.
interior, with arches and piers sheathed in coloured
marble (16th and 17th century), has a golden ceiling
decorated between 1664 and 1670 to a design by Baldasarre
Franceschini, known as Volterrano, who also painted
the canvas of the Assumption.
High up between the
windows there are panels and medallions, painted
with Miracles of the Annunciate by 17th-century
To the left of the entrance is the Chapel
of the Most Holy Annunciate, where the highly venerated
image of the Virgin is preserved.
The elegant tempietto
which encloses it was designed by Michelozzo and
built by Pagno Portigiani in 1448; the small oratory
next to it has a panel of the Holy Face by Andrea
The many side chapels in the nave are
mainly of the 17th and 18th century, such as the
Feroni Chapel, by Giovan Battista Foggini and others,
a jewel of the Florentine baroque.
The Tribune has
nine chapels which were completely transformed in
the baroque period. Andrea del Castagno, one of
the principal exponents of the Florentine renaissance
style, was especially active in Santissima Annunziata:
one of his frescoes is of St Julian, in the Feroni
Chapel, another is of the Holy Trinity with St Jerome,
in the adjacent chapel.
Leaving the church by the
door at the end of the nave on the left, we enter
the Cloister of the Dead, built around 1453. Above
the door is the celebrated fresco of the Madonna
del Sacco (1525) by Andrea del Sarto. In the other
lunettes there is an interesting but very damaged
fresco cycle on the Servites of Mary, painted in
the early seventeenth century by Bernardino Poccetti
and other artists of his time. Also in the Cloister
is the Chapel of the Company of St Luke, where the
Confraternity of Painters had its headquarters in
1562 (before being moved in 1563 by order of Cosimo
I to the Academy of the Arts of Design).
was frescoed with the Assumption by Luca Giordano,
and the high altar has a canvas by Giorgio Vasari
showing St Luke painting the Virgin. On the other
walls are works by Bronzino, Pontormo and Santi