Death in Florence: The Medici, Savonarola, and the Battle for the Soul of a Renaissance City
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One of the defining moments in Western history, the bloody and dramatic story of the battle for the soul of Renaissance Florence.
By the end of the fifteenth century, Florence was well established as the home of the Renaissance. As generous patrons to the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo, the ruling Medici embodied the progressive humanist spirit of the age, and in Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) they possessed a diplomat capable of guarding the militarily weak city in a climate of constantly shifting allegiances between the major Italian powers.
However, in the form of Savonarola, an unprepossessing provincial monk, Lorenzo found his nemesis. Filled with Old Testament fury and prophecies of doom, Savonarola's sermons reverberated among a disenfranchised population, who preferred medieval Biblical certainties to the philosophical interrogations and intoxicating surface glitter of the Renaissance. Savonarola's aim was to establish a 'City of God' for his followers, a new kind of democratic state, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The battle between these two men would be a fight to the death, a series of sensational events―invasions, trials by fire, the 'Bonfire of the Vanities', terrible executions and mysterious deaths―featuring a cast of the most important and charismatic Renaissance figures.
Was this a simple clash of wills between a benign ruler and religious fanatic? Between secular pluralism and repressive extremism? In an exhilaratingly rich and deeply researched story, Paul Strathern reveals the paradoxes, self-doubts, and political compromises that made the battle for the soul of the Renaissance city one of the most complex and important moments in Western history.
to death, and that he should be burnt alive. That evening a scaffold was put up at the end of a walkway which reached into the middle of the Piazza della Signoria ... and here was erected a solid piece of wood many braccia high, with a large circular platform around its base. A piece of wood was nailed horizontally near the top of the vertical piece of wood making it look like a cross. But people noticed this, and said: ‘They are going to crucify him.’ And when word of this reached the ears of
18–19, 20, 78 plot against, 21–3 finds aristocratic Roman bride for Lorenzo, 25 death, 26, 27 brief references, 30, 76, 120 Medici, Piero de’, the Unfortunate (son of Lorenzo the Magnificent) education, 31, 138 sent to Rome by his father, 75–6 marries Alfonsina Orsini, 80, 92, 138–9 expected to be Lorenzo’s successor, 8, 115 and his father’s illness, 122 summoned to his father’s deathbed, 124 Savonarola agrees to support, 126 and death of Leoni, 129 Lorenzo succeeded as ruler by,
beneath his dark, heavy eyebrows. When Savonarola spoke, he had the knack of investing his words with all the power of his driven personality. His sermons were charged with the Holy Spirit with which he felt himself to be filled. He raged with an Old Testament fury, and his words were filled with prophecies of doom. Here, with a vengeance, was a return to the old certainties of times gone by. Savonarola impressed upon the citizens of Florence how they should be devoting themselves to the life of
their monastic vows, especially with regard to poverty. During their life in San Marco they had all fallen prey to the desire for luxuries and a life of comfort. This dream confirmed Savonarola’s resolve to embark upon his reform of San Marco. Indeed, he decided, it would probably be better for all concerned if the community moved out of San Marco altogether, for it was already becoming too crowded, though such a move would obviously involve protracted negotiations with higher authorities.
money as he could from this rich city, so that it could finance his vast and expensive army on the next leg of its march, as far as Rome, where he expected to extract further gold for his coffers from the pope, so that his men would be well fed and well paid for the final leg of their march on Naples. Whatever Charles VIII decided, he felt confident that his French army now had Florence at his mercy. At the time, the population of Florence is estimated to have been less than 70,000 men, women