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Savonarola and Florence

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 Savonarola and Florence2004-11-15 21:58
2 comments
picture 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.


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2 comments

16 Jun 2005 @ 14:41 by rayon : Savonarola
Fantastic to have this subject for discussion. As always the context of such issues is important. Italy inherited a city state from the Ancient Greeks. Tyrants in the old sence ruled here, either families or individuals. The time of Savonorola was crucial for democracy in Italy. The People were pulled one side by either the Medici or other families, or Vatican, or outsider (King of France) who all viewed Florence as a possible conquest. The King of France actually saved the day by agreeing to leave the city to itself, the people then had someone to face up to the whichever family, this was a cohesive empowering the people, the artisans, it was the first time they spoke for themselves about all the usual things, the reason Savonorola was hated was because he was their alternative spokesman. They had enough grist for their own mill, but they had but few spokesmen in this chaos, or places from which to speak, so it could be said Savonarola helped their cause. Reading it word for word, he was not against the rennaissance per se, but rather an attraction point and a focus for a fed up people, who after this, I believe retained Florence as a free city. There is more but need to refresh first hand.  


6 Jul 2005 @ 13:11 by rayon : Florence -
(Extracts from 1878 W R Clark,ma on Savonarola) - "the florentines knew that the aristocratic party, Ghibelline were to hostile to their liberties and that the oligarchy was sustained by the Emperor as suzerain; and therefore they were Guelfs (papal). In the same way, Pisa subject to Florence,ever resenting theyoke unable to shake off, took sides with tis adversaries and became Ghibelline. Importantly, Matilda, Countess of Tuscany, held Florence and other cities of the province under the Emperor, warmly espoused the cause of the Pope, and placed her wealth andher possessions at his service. At her death the Countess left to the Roman See the whole of her vast territories, which enormously increased the power of the Pope, but naturally embittered the strife between him and the Poper who regarded these possessions as legitimately falling by reversion to himself. . . . . this serves as illustration. . . .

to continue, Savonarola, did not actually want to come out of his Convent, but was requested to, by the church, and he did so under protest. He was also asked to apologise to the Pope for disagreeing, but he found ways not to do so without causing direct offence. To be continued . . .  



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