Basilica della Santissima Annunziata ☆☆

The facade, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy (Photo by Max_Ryazanov)
The facade

A treasure trove of Renaissance architecture and Mannerist art, and final resting place of several late Renaissance masters

Hardly anyone ever visits SS. Annunziata, and I can never figure out why.

Founded in 1250, this church near the northern edge of the tourist center, anchoring a lovely square lined by loggias (including Brunelleschi's famous Ospedale degli Innocenti), was rebuilt in 1444-81 by Michelozzo and completed by Leon Battista Alberti, two of the greatest architects of the Renaissance.

It was decorated by some of the most important artists of the High Renaissance—especially its Mannerist offshoot (artists who were inspired by the twisting figures and offbeat pastel palette pioneered by Michelangelo).

It also serves as the burial place for many noted Renaissance artists—none of the über-famous early ones, but a whole passel of later, second tier greats, including the painters Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, and Franciabigio and the sculptors Giambologna, Cellini, and Baldinelli.

The Entrance: Chiostro dei Voti

The great art starts even before you get inside, with frescoes (somewhat damaged by the elements; now covered by a skylight) on the walls of the entrance cloister by those Mannerists.

Walking counterclockwise and starting on the right, the first image is Rosso Fiorentino's Assumption, Visitation by Pontormo, and a Marriage of the Virgin by Franciabigio.

Beyond the marble Madonna and Child (perhaps by Michelozzo himself) are two corner frescoes by Andrea del Sarto: a masterful Birth of the Virgin and a damaged Arrival of the Magi (del Sarto stuck self-portrait in the right corner of that one; he's the dude in the blue hat who is looking out at you).

To the left of the door, the fresco parade picks up again with a ruinous Nativity by Alesso Baldovinetti. The rest of the frescoes tell the life of the obscure San Filippo Benizzi, starting with one by Cosimo Rosselli,but all the rest are by Andrea del Sarto.

The church interior

The inside of SS Annunziata is dark and somber, and overly baroque, but still pretty cool.

Every Florentine bride's first stop

Look to the left as you enter Santissima Annunziata for a canopied tabernacle by Michelozzo that is completely slathered in ex votos, candles, and hanging lamps by Florentines keen on venerating the tiny painting of Annunciation inside.

This was supposedly painted in the 1300s by Brother Bartolomeo, a simple monk who just couldn't get the Virgin Mary's face right, so he left it blank and lay down for a nap. Upon awakening, he found that an angel had snuck in and painted the face for him.

The mountain of flowers in front of the famous tabernacle? Florentine brides traditionally visit this shrine immediately after their weddings to leave the bridal bouquets at the foot of the miraculous Madonna. This will ensure a good marriage.

The left side

Along the left side of the church are a series of fine chapels, the first two with frescoes by Andrea del Castagno, then a chapel with some Alessandro Allori copies of Michelangelo's Sistine Last Judgment(though adopted by and trained by Bronzino—and a great defender of Bronzino's legacy—Allori always also had a soft spot for that earlier Florentine master, Michelangelo), and in the fourth chapel is an Assumption by early Renaissance master (and Raphael teacher) Perugino.

Cross the church to the right transept. There's a processional cross by Castagno again, and a small chapel in which the sculptor Bandinelli is buried, decorated with his carving of Nicodemus (actually a self-portrait) helping lower Christ off the cross. Up above is the second oldest church organ in Italy,designed by Domenico di Lorenzo da Lucca in 1509–21.

The Tribune

The decahedronal Tribune is a trip, a masterful piece of architecture by that cross-generational tag-team of Michelozzo and Alberti that took its inspiration from Classical models of rotundas and triumphal arches.

It is ringed by eight round chapels (and a square one at the back); the most interesting are those along the left side, starting with the first chapel and Alessandro Allori (the Birth of Mary) and his son, Cristofano Allori (four Miracles of Beato Manetti, one of the church's founders). Third chapel on the left has a Madonna and Saints by Perugino; the next a Resurrection by Bronzino.

The square chapel at the very back of the Tribune was designed by the late Renaissance sculptor Giambologna to serve as his own tomb. He did the bronze Crucifix and the panels; his students did the other statues. The lovely Gothic Madonna altarpiece is by Bernardo Daddi.

As you exit the Tribune, look to the outside base of the triumphal arch for the simple burial slab of the artist Andrea del Sarto (it's right below the statue of St. Peter).

(This isn't always open, but: as you exit the Tribune, turn right to head into the left transept, then right again to enter the Sacristy, designed largely by Michelozzo—who also did the terracotta statue of John the Baptists in the chapel at the far end.)

The Cloister of the Dead and Chapel of St. Luke

In the left transept, on the south wall, above a door, is a beautiful lunette painting by Andrea del Sartoof the Madonna del Sacco (a version of the Rest on the Flight from Egypt in which Joseph is leaning on the titular sack).

Through the door beneath it you can enter the Chiostro dei Morti, lined by funerary slabs and still more late Renaissance/early baroque frescoes wedged up in the lunettes.

Off the north side of the cloister is the Cappella San Luca, or Chapel of St. Luke, Evangelist and supposed artist and therefore the patron saint of painters—which probably explains why so many of them are buried under it, including Pontormo, Cellini, and Franciabigio. (The chapel holds a special mass for artists on St. Luke's Day, October 18.)

The chapel itself contains a Crucifix carved by Antonio da Sangallo as you enter, a Trinity by Alessandro Allori, a detached frescoes of the Madonna and Saints by Pontormo, an Allegory of Architecture by Santi di Tito, and a ceiling fresco of The Vision of St. Bernard by Luca Giordano.

On the altar is a painting by Giorgio Vasari of St. Luke Painting the Madonna that is amazingly self-aggrandizing, even for a genius self-promoter like Vasari, in which Vasari painted his own self-portrait as the face of St. Luke.

Photo gallery
  • The facade, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Max_Ryazanov)
  • The nave of SS. Annunziata and its Chapel of the Annunciation., Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Richard Mortel)
  • The tribune, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Juan Carlos Peaguda)
  • , Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Дмитрий Мозжухин)
  • The nave, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Baccio Bandinelli
  • Cappella dell
  • Cappella della Compagnia di San Luca, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Cappella di San Biagio, frescoed by Il Volterrano, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • The Chiostro Grande (Great Cloister), Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • "The Virgin with St. Nicola and other Saints" by L
  • Gravestone of Andrea del Sarto, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
  • Detail of
  • Detail of
  • Detail of
  • "Glory of St Lucy" and "Virtues" (1650-52) by Il Volterrano in the Cappella Colloredo, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Italy (Photo by Sailko)
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How long does Chiesa della SS. Annunziata take?

The church really only takes about 20 minutes to wander, 30–45 if you're really into Mannerists and want to study the works.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).