User:Jahsonic/AHE/Renaissance/Bonfire of the Vanities
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Title image Agnolo Bronzino's Triumph of Venus (image)
Renaissance man is a proud man, proud of his ability and his achievements. Though he is still very much a Christian man standing in the shadow of God, for the first time he is important as man, so say humanists. His pride is celebrated in the arts, in architecture, in literature, to the dismay of many. The first self-proclaimed moralist emerges in the shape of the Dominican preacher of penitence Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498). Savonarola embodies the anti-renaissance sentiment that would ultimately lead to an entirely puritan Protestantism. Theologian by training, at the age of 42 he makes it to ruler of the Florentine Republic. Today, he is mainly known as a book burner and art vandal.
When three years in power, he organizes on February 7, 1497 the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities, the first mass art destruction in history. His fanatical supporters go from door to door to collect objects which bear witness to moral laxity. Everything that gives man pleasure in life is the object of their scorn: mirrors, cosmetics, pagan books, gaming tables, luxurious clothing, masks, wigs, musical instruments and writings with immoral and profane tendencies. All these fine things are amassed on the Florentine Piazza della Signoria and burned in ostentatious display. Copies of Boccaccio's Decameron, the works of Ovid, Plato, Petrarch, Dante and Luigi Pulci go up in smoke. Important paintings by Botticelli and Michelangelo are said to have been lost in the flames, although nobody knows exactly what went on the pyre. Among the books, But the people soon tire of the religious fundamentalist regime of Savonarola and on 4 May of the same year riots break out, growing to a veritable revolt. Pubs open their doors again, alcohol is served anew and the streets are filled with people dancing and playing at dice, in spite of Savonarola's regulations. On May 13, the pope excommunicates Savonarola and in 1498 the leader of the Church demands the arrest of the priest on charges of blasphemy, heresy, demagogy, treason and giving voice to prophecies and religious errors. During the next few weeks, Savonarola is tortured on the stretching rack. Eventually he signs his confession under severe torture, for that purpose the executioners had left his right arm intact.
On the day of the execution is Savonarola led to the Piazza della Signoria, and in that exact same square, where a year earlier the flames of the Bonfire of the Vanities had raged, he is ritually stripped of his monk's robe and proclaimed a heretic. The chains align themselves around his wrists and hung above a large fire he is roasted alive - an execution method that Savonarola himself had often used. Niccolò Machiavelli, that other politician-philosopher, would succeed him.