| by Flemming Funch|
A little history lesson from Ben Hammersley:
As solace, or a warning, I give you history from around five hundred and ten years ago, here in Florence. After the city had seen a period of intense financial growth and the blossoming of art, philosophy and literature - and a period of international influence and real financial power stretching from London to Jerusalem, which is about as far as a European could stretch in those days - a small, but vocal, minority started to talk about the sinfulness of the local society: the lax morals; the frivilous civilisation; the unchristian corruption of the leaders; their preference of idolatrous and, frankly, homoerotic art. It was, they said, time to get back to basics. To real Christian values.
Their leader, Girolamo Savonarola, preached hellfire and damnation and roused the crowds into rejecting the old ways. Groups were formed, going door to door to punish gamblers, drinkers, women dressed in too immodest clothing and other such outrages to their beliefs. Artworks, books, playing cards, ornaments, and all the other symbols and tools of the more liberal citizens were seized, and publicly burnt in the middle of the main square - the Bonfire of the Vanities.
The crowds, the less educated, the less worldly, loved all of this. Savonarola’s passion and beliefs chimed with them, even as they watched their city’s treasures destroyed - It was about time someone put those intellectuals in their place, and God in his.
But after a while, and here is the catch, dear reader, it all got too much. Spurred on by his initial success, Savonarola grew increasingly extreme in his views. Unchecked by the need to gain support, he pushed and pushed, until, eight years after he had first appeared in Florence, the crowd rebelled once more and he was hanged and burnt on the same spot of the Bonfires of the Vanities.
Today that spot is marked with a bronze plaque, barely noticed by the people walking over it on their way into the Uffizi Gallery - a building founded years later by the very same intellectuals that Savonarola had temporarily replaced, to house the masterpieces he had so despised.
I guess fanatics tend to go too far. And you don't stop renaissances all that easily.