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

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

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)

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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Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
RENAISSANCEAD More than 1 year ago
Martines prides himself in being opposed to all mystifications. This may be the source of one of the main problems in the Florentine story about Savonarola. As the Dominican Savonarola was exerting his power through sermons, understanding the mythical messages seems paramount. After the first 100 pages or so (of a hard to read translation), I felt left in the dark as to what the conflict was all about. Given that fifteenth century Florence is one of my favorite research areas and that I am not a novice to Savonarola, this needs explaining: At the end of the fifteenth century, a greater conflict was in motion. The nascent nation-states were in an exploration frenzy to expand their colonial influence over newfound territories in North and South America. The Jews had to leave Spain within three months in an indescribable Holocaust and the Italian Peninsula was flooded with Melchite Saracens fleeing the forced conversions in Spain. Plague and famine shook the foundations of Florence, which seems to also have had a magnetic attraction for the refugees. The papacy and all of Italy were in sheer uproar. The pope faced an intellectual challenge like none other before?but not from Savonarola. A Renaissance man by the name of Pico della Mirandola had found an entirely new way of absorbing everything there was to learn, be it Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, or Muslim. Mirandola's systematic approach opened up all frontiers and breached all restraints that had been imposed by the church. Achievement became the focal point. Having carried his ideas to the center of spiritual evil in Rome, he had made sure that his words fell on fruitful grounds. Savonarola was at the other end of Mirandola's views: his intention was to establish Florence as a "New Jerusalem" and his claim was that God himself had spoken to him. The implication of this can be derived from the context from which the Book of Revelations in the New Testament was born. In the New Jerusalem, the Christians expected the kingdom of heaven to be established in Jerusalem, where the book of Revelations promised free booze, plenty of food, and eternal life without worries. Hence, Savonarola was an apocalyptic radical, who glorified poverty, called for the termination of those that thought differently, and pulled the political strings from behind the scenes. Instead of global context and curiosity, which would have helped in better understanding the preacher Savonarola, the author seems lost in details. For example, Martines is talking at length about a group of demons but seems to dismiss them as superstitions. Instead, there is an apocalyptic wave of purification of the faith by the innocent (e.g. Savonarola's followers) against those that endorsed wealth and sensuality (the demons). These real 'demons' had been in control of Florence before (the Medici) and needed rooting out, so the plan went. What was the Holy League about (Rome, Venice, Milan, and Spain)? Why would Florence support the French and not the Holy League? Why had they driven out the Medici? What were Savonarola's predictions and why were they offensive? There were five leading churches in Florence (among 70); what were their doctrinal differences and their role for or against Savonarola? Look up the Great Leap-Fraud for further interest on this subject. Very well researched, backed up with primary evidence every step along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago