The fresco comes from the Spedale di San Martino alla Scala, on the corner of Via della Scala and Via degli Orti Oricellari. This, created in 1313 as the Spedale of Santa Maria della Scala and subordinate to the more famous institution of the same name in Siena, was devoted chiefly to the support of abandoned children. The dedication changed in 1532 when the building was partially donated to the nuns of the convent of San Bartolommeo e San Martino on Via delle Panche, which had been destroyed during the siege of 1529. In 1536 the hospital of San Martino was definitively suppressed and merged with the Ospedale degli Innocenti (Passerini 1853, pp. 675-685; Poggi 1915-16, p. 129).
The documents, published by Poggi (1915-16, p. 130), record that Botticelli, between the April and May of 1481, made "a painting of an Annunciation which is in the loggia in front of our door of the church and the door of the convent". Godoli and Pallet, following a careful survey of the rooms, have traced the exact location of the fresco to the "space of the old loggia" and identified "the two fourteenth-century portals in pietra serena with the coats of arms of Santa Maria
della Scala, which led from the loggia into the church and the convent" to which the document alludes. The painting was set "right above the second portal" and its position explains the off-centre perspective: in fact "the perspective construction of the space I...] takes into account the presence and position of the door underneath. the vision of the angel is central for anyone coming through the door and this is the viewpoint of the whole work; in addition the pillar in the middle of the two scenes is a continuation of the stone facing of the right jamb of the same door" (Gódoli, Pallet, in Il Rinascimento 2001, p. 69).
c the fresco was reduced to two lunettes, although great respect was shown for the painting, with the firm intention of altering it as little as possible. In 1920 a restoration brought the Annunciation back to its original form, and subsequent cleanings and restorations have revived part of its splendour.
Between 1478 and 1479 a terrible outbreak of the plague struck Florence and many of the victims of the epidemic were buried in the convent (Passerini 1853, p. 683). Lightbown (1978, I, p. 52) suggests that the fresco may have been a form of ex voto for the averted danger, offered to Mary, to whom the building was dedicated.
The Annunciation is set in an interior, where Mary is surprised in the privacy of her room by a beautiful angel, depicted still in flight, with his wings raised and hair caressed by the wind. Kneeling with her eyes lowered, the Virgin expresses her humbIe acceptance of the \\ill of God, and there seems to be a repeated allusion to her purity in the furnishings of the room, through the use of white for the canopy, drape and pillow of the bed. The construction of perspective is skillful and the pillars allow the space to be divided into
several rooms, the entrance with the Angel, the antechamber with the Virgin Mary and, in the background, the intimacy of the chamber itself, with the large bed, to which corresponds, on the other side, the garden. The off-centre perspective, the marked foreshortening of the floor and the bipartition of the spaces link this fresco to Pollaiolo's Annunciation, (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, c. 1470), on which Sandro seems in part to have drawn. (N.P.)