Savonarola and the Bonfire of the Vanities

Anonymous, Execution of Savonarola in the Piazza Signoria, Florence, May 23 1498
Fra Bartolomeo, Savonarola, c. 1498

Bonfire of the Vanities
Not everyone embraced the new secular values of the Renaissance!  Girolamo Savonarola was a fanatical monk who took control of Florence in the later 15th century.  He denounced Humanism as blasphemy, and exhorted the citizens of Florence to repent their sins.  He sponsored “bonfires of the vanities” where classicizing books and works of art were burned:

“His opponents called Savonarola and his followers ‘Snivellers’ and he grimly disapproved of jokes and frivolity, of poetry and inns, of sex (especially the homosexual variety), of gambling, of fine clothes and jewellery and luxury of every sort. He denounced the works of Boccaccio, nude paintings, pictures of pagan deities and the whole humanistic culture of the Italian Renaissance. He called for laws against vice and laxity. He put an end to the carnivals and festivals the Florentines traditionally enjoyed, substituting religious festivals instead, and employed street urchins as a junior gestapo to sniff out luxurious and suspect items. In the famous ‘bonfire of the vanities’ in 1497 he had gaming tables and packs of cards, carnival masks, mirrors, ornaments, nude statues and supposedly indecent books and pictures burned in the street. The friar also disapproved of profiteering financiers and businessmen.”
Richard Cavendish, “Execution of Florentine Friar Savanarola, History Today, v. 48 Issue 5 May 1998

Savonarola’s backlash against Humanist art caused many artists to seek work elsewhere; his criticisms of the church also got him into trouble with the Pope, and he was burned at the stake for Heresy in 1498!

Savonarola (Documentary)

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