The basilica of Santissima Annunziata is the main shrine to the Virgin Mary in Florence. Due to the wealth of its decoration seems to allude to the Roman Baroque as opposed to Tuscan religious traditions. At the top of the central arch of the basilica’s outer portico you can see traces of frescoes by Pontormo from 1513 to 1514, while the central doorway is topped by a mosaic Annunciation by Davide Ghirlandaio (1509). From the portico you enter a small atrium called "Chiostro dei Voti". It was started in 1447 based on designs by Michelozzo and is adorned in Corthinian columns.
Inside, characterized by marble, stuccowork and gilding, admire the window with the golden grating: it’s the Window of the Princes, from which the Grand Duke’s family, coming from the Palazzo della Crocetta, could privately attend the religious services that were held in the Chapel of the Virgin Mary.
It is said that the church was once home to an altar with a highly venerated icon of Saint Mary of the Annunciation from 1341: the documents only mention donations, lamps and ex voto. In the words of Michelangelo: “Here there are no brush strokes, apart from the face of the Virgin Mary, which is truly divine indeed.” All this devotion caused various modernization and restoration campaigns. In 1447, the Servants of Mary brotherhood, with the help of Piero di Cosimo dei Medici, decided to erect the present-day chapel, completed in 1448 based on designs by Michelozzo. The chapel’s marble ceiling, featuring gilding and enamel, is attributed to the school of Luca della Robbia. The oldest part of the chapel consists of friezes bearing symbols that refer to the privileges of the Madonna and the screen that simulates a curtain in very fine material. Many lamps hang inside and around the chapel. The first, to the left of the image, was placed there by Florentines as thanks for the city’s survival of the 1895 earthquake; the second (which hands from the left-hand architrave) depicts the mystery of the Annunciation, and was offered in 1952 to mark the end of the centenary festivities of the coronation of the icon by the Vatican (8 September, 1852).
Piero de’ Medici and his successors never claimed any patronage rights over the chapel of Santissima Annunziata. Piero di Cosimo only had the space to the right of the aedicule adjusted as an oratory, work on which concluded in 1463.
The large Silver Cabinet, set into the main wall, was closed off with a painting of stories from the life of Christ by Beato Angelico (1453), Baldovinetti, and the school of Beato Angelico. (The various parts of this artwork are now found in the National Museum of San Marco). Piero dei Medici had a small organ added next to the choir, which can still be seen from the church. The instrument made by Matteo di Paolo da Prato no longer exists; in its place is an organ made by Michelangelo Paoli in 1842. In the place of the Silver Cabinet there’s a collection of ex voto that frames the Redeemer by Andrea del Sarto (1515).
[For more information: www.annunziata.it]