Guide to visiting the church of the Santissima Annunziata
The Basilica of the Santissima Annunziata overlooks the homonymous square in the historic center of Florence, not far from Piazza del Duomo and Piazza San Marco. Less known to the general public than other city churches, the Church of Santissima Annunziata is actually very important given that it represents the main Marian sanctuary of Florence and for many centuries it was at the center of city life, especially on the occasion of the Florentine New Year which it was celebrated on March 25th.
According to tradition, an oratory dedicated to the Madonna was founded here around 1081. Over time, this oratory was abandoned so, around the middle of the thirteenth century it was entrusted to the Compagnia dei Servi di Maria. It was they who built a first basilica which took the name of Santa Maria dei Servi di Cafaggio.
As in any self-respecting church history, we also have a miracle in this one. Mary’s servants had commissioned a painter, a certain Bartolomeo, to paint an Annunciation. However, the painter just couldn’t paint the face of the Madonna and after numerous failed attempts he ended up falling asleep, exhausted. When he awoke, he discovered the Madonna’s face had been completed by an angel. This Annunciation soon became the object of great veneration, and was also the inspiration for the name of the church.
Between the 1200s and 1300s the church underwent various modifications, but it was towards the end of the 14th century that it was decided to proceed with an important expansion work which was entrusted to the architect Antonio Pucci. The construction and restoration works of the church and the rooms of the complex went on throughout the fifteenth century and involved some of the most important architects of the time such as Michelozzo, Antonio Manetti and Leon Battista Alberti. The church was finally consecrated in 1516 by Cardinal Antonio del Monte.
In the following centuries, the church underwent other works until the great nineteenth-century restoration carried out by Giuseppe Poggi. In that period, the restoration of churches almost always led to a restoration of the medieval forms to the detriment of the Baroque additions. This did not happen in the case of the Santissima Annunziata which still today perfectly preserves its Baroque features.
Description of the church
The facade of the church is characterized by the presence of a beautiful portico with seven round arches. Above the central arch of the portico, there is a copy of a fresco created by Pontormo, a painter whose main characteristic was to update traditional compositions. His relentlessly experimental spirit, combined with his complex personality, made him one of the most interesting and innovative artists of the sixteenth century. In this church you can admire his work before him: a visit to the church is therefore also a great opportunity to get to know this great artist. Also outside you can admire the central portal and the beautiful mosaic with the Annunciation by Davide Ghirlandaio.
Chiostrino dei Voti
Beyond the portico is the so-called Chiostrino dei Voti, quadrangular in shape, surrounded by Corinthian columns supporting the arches. A series of frescoes on the walls traces the story of the Madonna and the story of Filippo Benizzi. Some of the greatest interpreters of Mannerism such as Pontormo, Rosso Fiorentino and Andrea del Sarto worked on these frescoes.
Inside, the church is characterized by a distinctly Baroque style. Wherever you look, the church transmits all its spirit and strikes us with the typical excesses of the Baroque between colored marbles, stuccos and decorations of all sorts up to the splendid ceiling created by Volterrano.
Cappella della Santissima Annunziata
The cappella della Santissima Annunziata has the function of preserving the miraculous fresco of the Annunciation. Defined by Michelangelo as a “divine thing“, this fresco almost certainly does not date back to the mid-13th century as reported by tradition, but it is much more probable that it was painted in the 14th century. The small temple that houses it was designed by Michelozzo and built by Pagno di Lapo Portigiani between 1447 and 1448. The decoration of the small temple, very complex and articulated, is the work of various artists distributed over a wide period of time between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Along the two aisles of the church there are several chapels, which are appreciated for the quality and variety of their decorations and the beauty of the works they contain. Along the left aisle we find the Cappella Feroni with the large altarpiece Transito di san Giuseppe by Johann Carl Loth, the Cappella di San Girolamo with the fresco Trinità e Santi by Andrea del Castagno and the Cappella dell’Assunta where you can admire the Assumption of Mary by Perugino.
On the right we immediately find the Cappella di San Nicola da Bari with the altarpiece by Empoli, Virgin with Saint Nicholas and other saints. This is followed by the Cappella del Beato Giovacchino da Siena where there is a crucifix carved by Giuliano da Sangallo, a very important character but much better known as an architect than a sculptor. On the same side, the Cappella dell’Addolorata preserves the funeral monument of Orlando de’ Medici created by Bernardo Rossellino, the Cappella del Santissimo Sacramento with the table of the Conception by Matteo Rosselli, and the Cappella della Pietà where is located the sculptural group of Christ in piety supported by Nicodemus made by Baccio and Clemente Bandinelli.
Behind the beautiful high altar, which was perhaps built to a design by Leon Battista Alberti, we find the large circular room of the tribune. Built in 1444 by Michelozzo, the tribune was later covered with a dome following the design of Alberti who was also the creator of the large arch that connects the nave to the grandstand. Inside there is the choir and some chapels. These include the Cappella della Natività with the altarpiece by Alessandro Allori, Nativity of the Virgin, the Cappella della Risurrezione which takes its name from the altarpiece by Agnolo Bronzino and the Cappella della Madonna del Soccorso, by Giambologna.
In the church of the Santissima Annunziata there are 6 pipe organs, all very precious and beautiful. The most important are the Cornu Epistulae organ, built by Domenico di Lorenzo from Lucca, the Cornu Evangelii organ, designed by Matteo Nigetti but with a much more ancient origin given that a part comes from the Domus Aurea of the emperor Nero and the organ of the Chapel of the Santissima Annunziata.
Opening hours of the basilica of the Santissima Annunziata
The basilica of the Santissima Annunziata is open every day from 7.30 to 12.30 and from 16.00 to 18.30.
On public holidays the basilica is also open from 20.45 to 21.45.