Girolamo Savonarola (September 21, 1452 May 23, 1498), also translated as Jerome Savonarola or Hieronymous Savonarola, was a Dominican priest and, briefly, ruler of Florence, who was known for religious reformation and anti-Renaissance preaching and his book burning and destruction of art.
Oddly, Lorenzo de Medici, the previous ruler of Florence and patron of many Renaissance artists, was both a former patron of Savonarola and eventually, the target of Savonarola's preaching.
After the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Savonarola was the sole leader of Florence, setting up a democratic republic. Characterizing it as a "Christian and religious Republic", one of its first acts was to make sodomy, previously punishable by fine, into a capital offence. His chief enemies were the Duke of Milan and Pope Alexander VI, who issued numerous restraints against him, all of which were ignored.
In 1497 he and his followers carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral "laxity": mirrors, cosmetics, "lewd" pictures, "pagan" books, gaming tables, fine dresses, and the works of "immoral" poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence. Fine Florentine Renaissance artwork was lost in Savanarola's notorious bonfires, including paintings by Sandro Botticelli thrown on the pyres by the artist himself.
Florence soon tired of Savonarola's hectoring. During his Ascension Day sermon on May 4, 1497, bands of youths rioted, and the riot became a revolt: taverns reopened, and men gambled publicly.
On May 13, 1497 he was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI and in 1498 he was simultaneously hanged and burned, in the same place and manner that he had condemned others. He was charged with uttering prophecies, sedition, and religious error. Jacopo Nardi, who recorded the incident in his Istorie della città di Firenze, said that his executioner lit the flame crying, "The one who wanted to burn me is now himself put to the flames." Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince, also witnessed and wrote about the execution. The Medici regained control over Florence.
A plaque commemorates the site of Savonarola's execution in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence.
See also: Masaniello
Life and Times of Girolamo Savonarola by Pasquale Villari
- The novel Romola by George Eliot features Savonarola as a central character.
The Meddlesome Friar by Michael de la Bedoyere. 1957.
Savonarola by Piero Misciattelli (trans. by M. Peters-Roberts). 1930.
Savonarola: A Biography in Dramatic Episodes by William Van Wyck. 1927. (A play.)
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13