Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence

Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence

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by Lauro Martines
     
 

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A gripping and beautifully written narrative that reads like a novel, Fire in the City presents a compelling account of a key moment in the history of the Renaissance, illuminating the remarkable man who dominated the period, the charismatic Girolamo Savonarola. Lauro Martines, whose decades of scholarship have made him one of the most admired historians of… See more details below

Overview

A gripping and beautifully written narrative that reads like a novel, Fire in the City presents a compelling account of a key moment in the history of the Renaissance, illuminating the remarkable man who dominated the period, the charismatic Girolamo Savonarola. Lauro Martines, whose decades of scholarship have made him one of the most admired historians of Renaissance Italy, here provides a remarkably fresh perspective on Savonarola, the preacher and agitator who flamed like a comet through late fifteenth-century Florence. The Dominican friar has long been portrayed as a dour, puritanical demagogue who urged his followers to burn their worldly goods in "the bonfire of the vanities." But as Martines shows, this is a caricature of the truth-the version propagated by the wealthy and powerful who feared the political reforms he represented. Here, Savonarola emerges as a complex and subtle man, both a religious and a civic leader-who inspired an outpouring of political debate in a city newly freed from the tyranny of the Medici. In the end, the volatile passions he unleashed-and the powerful families he threatened-sent the friar to his own fiery death. But his fusion of morality and politics would leave a lasting mark on Renaissance Florence.

About the Author:
Lauro Martines is former Professor of European History at the University of California, Los Angeles

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
In recent years, Savonarola has sometimes been caricatured as a political and moral terrorist, but Martines refuses to accept this reductionist caricature. The friar certainly worked hard for the moral cleansing of a society that sorely needed it, and he seems to have been honorable, devout and sincere. As Martines reminds us, an old Medici watchword goes " omne nefas victis, victoribus omnia sancta " -- "All crimes to the losers, to the winners all things pure." In the end, while Savonarola may have burned "vanities," the city fathers of Florence, with the approbation of a dissolute and cynical pope, burned the man himself. There's fanaticism, and then there's fanaticism.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Heretic. Madman. Religious fanatic. Political reactionary. All these terms have been used to describe the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), who challenged both the authority of the pope and the power of the Florentine throne. Martines's fast-paced study weaves a first-rate social history of Renaissance Florence with a deeply affecting and more complex portrait of Savonarola. The friar's fiery preaching against greed and for social justice garnered him many followers. Savonarola condemned the excesses of a church that tried to fill its coffers by mistreating the poor and an authoritarian monarchy complicit with this church. Once the ruling Medicis fell from power, he led a movement to create a Great Council, comprising middle-class citizens, which led the city for almost 20 years until a monarchy was restored. By the end of the century, Savonarola's support for this republican government, his steady condemnation of personal and social immorality and his strident preaching led to his excommunication, trial and execution. This absorbing account by Martines, professor emeritus of European history at UCLA, captures Savonarola's brilliance as well as the exciting and dangerous days of Renaissance Florence. 30 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this "biography of a time and place," Martines (European history, emeritus, UCLA; April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici) continues his investigation of the tumultuous political life of late 15th-century Florence. His focus is the short-lived Florentine republic (1494-98), when the dominant voice belonged to a charismatic Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola. Savonarola eventually fell from grace: Florentines could not long resist papal pressure to oust him once he was excommunicated in 1497. He was executed for heresy in 1498. However, for four years the notoriously worldly Florentines had embraced his radical message of individual and civic purification. For a short while, Savonarola provided the rallying point against the Medici. His stature was bolstered by the Florentine piety that lay behind the city's thin fa ade of Renaissance rationalism. Martines makes a convincing case that history treated Savonarola unfairly: he was an eloquent preacher and a sagacious political advisor to the city. As in his other books, Martines writes like an angel, and his judgments are nuanced and humane. This book will be read with profit by both professional scholars and general readers. Highly recommended.-David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The book makes lively reading and draws us toward the enigma of Savonarola."—Melissa Meriam Bullard, The Catholic Historical Review

"With Fire in the City, Lauro Martines beautifully explores the novelty of Savonarola's moral mission."—Maria C. Pasotre Passaro, Journal of Modern History

"A rich and fascinating portrait of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican friar who ruled Florence after the fall of the Medicis. Enraged by church corruption, he led a Florentine council for 20 years—until his enemies burned him at the stake in 1498."—Los Angeles Times

"Impressive narrative power.... A thoroughly good read that is also reliable history, scrupulously documented yet with its pages uncluttered by footnotes.... As in every tragedy, the pace quickens as the atmosphere darkens around the protagonist; and when all occasions begin to conspire against him, the reader is caught up in the pity, the cruelty—and the inevitability—of his fate.... Savonarola's story...bears fresh retelling, and Lauro Martines does so with scholarly authority and an admirable combination of clarity and pace."—Sir Michael Levey, Wall Street Journal

"Martines is one of our most renowned historians of the Italian Renaissance and of Florence in particular. His new book is, in some ways, a successor to April Blood , his account of the 'Pazzi' conspiracy to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici in 1478. Together the two volumes make up an engrossing study of society and politics during the Tuscan city's most illustrious half century."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"Martines writes like an angel, and his judgments are nuanced and humane.... Makes a convincing case that history treated Savonarola unfairly: he was an eloquent preacher and a sagacious political advisor to the city.... This book will be read with profit by both professional scholars and general readers."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Martines's fast-paced study weaves a first-rate social history of Renaissance Florence with a deeply affecting and more complex portrait of Savonarola.... This absorbing account by Martines captures Savonarola's brilliance as well as the exciting and dangerous days of Renaissance Florence."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195177480
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/10/2006
Pages:
360
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Lauro Martines is Professor Emeritus of European History at the University of California, Los Angeles. A renowned scholar of Renaissance Italy, he now writes regularly for The Times Literary Supplement. The author of April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici, he lives in London with his wife, the novelist Julia O'Faolian. His novel of Renaissance Italy, Loredana, won the Sagittarius Prize for 2005.

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