La Santissima Annunziata is the master marian Sanctuary in Florence since its foundation in 1200. It has always mainteined its centerpoint role of city devotion to Mary. Here the whole architecture tells the fond relationship of Florence with the Virgin.
More than architecture, this devotion is expressed by the foundational order of the Basilica, the Servants of Mary. Seven young florentine noblemen decided to consacrate to Mary as laymen and to commit to penance, prayer and charity. They were given a small chapel outside the town wall and soon dedicated to its decoration. Around 1260 they commissioned a fresco of the Annunciation of the Angel to Mary. The Lady is caught by the Angel in the act of reading holy scripture, the book is still open and we can read the prophecy: “A virgin will give birth to a child”, but she read nomore because she realized the prophecy. She is painted after her free “Yes” to God: “Verbo caro factum est” is written in the center, “The Word was made flash”.
The painter, when it came to complete the fresco with the face of Mary, found himself in big trouble has he didn’t know how to worthily depict her. Fresco is a skilled technique, requiring a secure and fast execution, to be completed before the plaster dries. Well, in that moment he was overwhelmed by a great sleep. When he woke up he found the painting completed. It is considered to be painted by an Angel, indeed, and to be the most similar representation of Mary we can immagine. The devotion to this immage grew fast and lasted centuries, returned by countless favours and graces of Mary, like the ex voto witness.
The original fresco was reproduced in the 14th century for conservative reasons, but it is a faithfull copy of the original.