L.10 Possible Studies for an Unexecuted Fresco at SS. Annunziata, Florence


The documents related to this project are transcribed and discussed in relation to Rosso’s Assumption of the Virgin in the atrium of SS. Annunziata (P.3); Carroll, 1987, 15, 33, n. 22, mentioned; Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 7, 9; Franklin, 1994, 18, 21-22, 272, n. 72, 297, Appendix A, DOCUMENT 11, 316; Costamagna, 1994, 22, 24, 27, 95, n. 1, 121-122, n. 3, under Cat. 17; Ciardi, 1994, 95, n. 122; Nova, 1995, 553.

On 18 April 1517 Rosso was commissioned to execute a fresco in the atrium of SS. Annunziata, in the large arched space to the right of the door leading into the Chapel of St. Sebastian.1 Although the painting was never executed it is possible that drawings were made for it.  Unfortunately its subject is not specified in the contract for it, but it is stated that earlier this work had been assigned to “altri,” whose rights to it were now revoked.  The term “altri” may be an aspect of the legal language of the document and may not mean that several others had been contracted for this work.  But it is known that at least one other artist had been hired to paint a fresco in the same location.  On 1 December 1513 Francesco di Lazzaro (Torni) was contracted to paint there “una visione della Natività di Nostra Donna con due Cibille et dua Astrologi.”  The fresco assigned to Rosso could have been of the same subject, although the fathers of the church might have changed their minds by 1518.  What is not clear, however, is just what the subject is that is given in the document of 1513.  The frescoes in the atrium illustrating the life of the Virgin begin with Sarto’s Birth of the Virgin, and then, after the still blank wall area that would have received Rosso’s fresco, there follow Franciabigio’s Marriage of the Virgin, Pontormo’s Visitation, and Rosso’s own Assumption of 1513-1514.  These appear in the proper order of the events of Mary’s life.  It is, therefore, unclear why a scene of a vision of her own nativity would be placed between one of her actual birth and another of her marriage.  It is possible that what is meant is a vision of the birth of Christ with two sibyls and two astrologers as a kind of substitute for a scene of the Annunciation.  The Annunciation is rather conspicuously absent from this cycle of frescoes at the Annunziata probably because there is a miraculous image of it inside the church and a second image of this event was not wanted in the atrium.  The subject of the unexecuted picture, as an announcement of the virgin birth of Christ, may have been related to the visionary scene of Augustus and the Tiburtine Sibyl, as suggested in Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991.  But Franklin in 1994 pointed out that this subject refers to the Nativity of Christ and not to the Virgin’s as indicated in the document.  But the wording of the document perhaps need not be taken at face value.


1 Franklin, 1994, 21, stated that the current double door appears to be a more recent addition, but that a document exists proving that a door was there leading into the oratory in 1513.  He also points out that the word “presso” in the document of 18 April 1517 could mean near, beside or above, and hence the commissioned fresco could have been for the space above the doors.  The December 1513 document for Francesco di Lazzaro’s fresco (see below and Franklin, 1994, 12, 272, n. 72), which the commission to Rosso replaced, mentions the “archo…che è dove è la porta del fiancho della chapella di San Bastiano,” which Franklin would interpret as meaning above the door.  But this reference is no more specific than the use of the word “presso” in the document of 1517.