The church was founded in 1250 by the seven original members of the Servite Order. In 1252, a painting of the Annunciation, which had been begun by one of the monks but abandoned in despair because he did not feel he could create a beautiful enough image, was supposedly completed by an angel while he slept. This painting was placed in the church and became so venerated that in 1444 the Gonzaga family from Mantua financed a special tribune. Michelozzo, who was the brother of the Servite prior, was commissioned to build it, but since Ludovico III Gonzaga had a special admiration for Leon Battista Alberti, Alberti in 1469 was given the commission. His vision was limited, however, by the pre-existing foundations. Construction was completed in 1481, after Alberti’s death. Though the space was given a Baroque dressing in the seventeenth century, the basic scheme of a domed circular space flanked by altar niches is still visible.
The facade of the church was added in 1601 by the architect Giovanni Battista Caccini, in imitation of Brunelleschi's facade of the Foundling Hospital, which defines the eastern side of the piazza. The building across from the Foundling Hospital, designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Elder, was also given a Brunelleschian facade in the 1520s.
Pilgrims who came to the church to venerate the miraculous painting often left wax votive offerings, many of them life-size models of the donor (sometimes complete with horses). In 1516, a special atrium was built to house these figures, the Chiostrino dei Voti. By the late 18th century there were some six hundred of these images and they had become one of the city's great tourist attractions. In 1786, however, they were all melted down to make candles.
Pope Alexander VI, in appreciation for the survival of Rome after French occupation, paid homage and gifted a silver effigy to the church.
The Florentine brides traditionally visit the shrine to leave their bouquets.
The Chiostrino dei Voti was designed by Michelozzo. Baldovinetti painted the first lunette in the chiostro in c. 1460. In about 1476, Rosselli began a cycle dedicated to the then Blessed Filippo Benizzi, fifth Prior General of the Servites, which was then completed (1509-1510) by Andrea del Sarto.
Site Work Date Painter
1st right Assumption 1513-1514 Rosso Fiorentino
2nd right Visitation 1516 Pontormo
3rd right Marriage of the Virgin 1513 Franciabigio
4th right Birth of the Virgin 1513-1514 Andrea del Sarto
5th right Voyage of the Magi 1511 Andrea del Sarto
1st-5th left Life of S. Filippo Benizi 1509-1510 Andrea del Sarto
6th left Life of S. Filippo Benizzi 1476 Cosimo Rosselli
to church Nativity 1460-1462 Alesso Baldovinetti
Another cloister, known as the Chiostri dei Morti, contains the famous Madonna del Sacco (1525) by del Sarto. The Cappella di San Luca, which opens off it, has belonged to the artists confraternity or the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno since 1565. Many artists are buried in its vault, including Benvenuto
Cellini, Pontormo, Franciabigio, Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli and Lorenzo Bartolini. Inside is Pontormo’s Holy Family (c. 1514) painted for church of St. Ruffillo and murals by Alessandro Allori: Trinity; Vasari: St. Luke paints Madonna; and Santi di Tito: Solomon directs the construction of the temple of Jerusalem. The ten large stucco figures were sculpted by Vincenzo Danti, Montorsoli and others.
Most part of the Cloister of SS. Annunziata is today the seat of Istituto Geografico Militare (IGM). In 2007, in the west part of the cloister occupied by the Istituto, the group found a monumental stair by Michelozzo, previously hidden, an Annunciation attributed toPaolo Uccello some 'Grottesche' frescoes by Morto da Feltre
Festival of the Paper Lanterns
When: September 7 (always)
Where: Procession from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza SS. Annunziata passing through Piazza della Signoria
When: From 8 p.m. onwards
How much: Free or the cost of a paper lantern if you want to participate
According to Christian tradition, on September 8 of an unknown year somewhere near Nazareth the Virgin Mary was born.
In Florence, the large basilica of Santissima Annunziata is dedicated to her worship and thus her birthday is a day of celebration. Today, the religious celebrations are followed halfheartedly but at one time it was a great popular tradition where hundreds of peasants and farmers from the surroundings would make the long trek into the city to celebrate.
While the pilgrimage was the official reason for the trip into Florence, the farmers did not come into the city empty handed. It was a great opportunity to bring in their goods - cheeses, honey, the season's vegetables, and small hand made items. Thus September 8 was also a market day in the square of Santissima Annunziata.
In order to arrive to the religious services on time, many started their journey before the break of dawn. The farmers needed lanterns and these were often carried at the end of stick, candles protected by a frame made of thin cloth. The tradition continues today so that on the eve of the 8th of September, Florentines and other "pilgrims" carry paper lanterns at the end of a stick as they make their way through the streets of Florence, from Piazza Santa Felicita to Piazza Santissima Annunziata, guided by the Cardinal. A speech is made in the square, followed by a final party in the square.
Today, a market is still held in the square in the form of a huge fair of organic produce on September 6 and 7.
So if you attend, you might wonder why the older children blow spit wads at the paper lanterns? It is said that this also goes back to when the peasants would make the pilgrimage in their best clothes, but as they were poor and overdressed by city dweller standards, they were derided (it is interesting to note that today Florentines call an overdressed, over made-up woman a rificolona). Florentine children would make their own, more beautiful, attractive lanterns in colored tissue paper to follow along, while others would target the paper lanterns with spit wads in an attempt to furtively hit them, make the candles fall over and set the lantern ablaze. It is very common for most lanterns to be burned by the end of the night.