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.
machine. The Council of One Hundred had been established by Cosimo de’ Medici just over a decade previously for the purpose of selecting suitable names to be placed in the leather bags from which were drawn the new gonfaloniere, his eight-man ruling Signoria and all senior posts in the government. The new Medici party machine now ensured that the Council of One Hundred was packed with even more Medici men. All this may have remained ‘within the constitution’, but it hardly encouraged the spirit
secrecy that was alien to Pico’s flamboyant nature, or that he was simply content to go along with Lorenzo the Magnificent, Poliziano, Ficino and the others in their erroneous assumption, because this better enabled him to understand their thinking. For there can be no doubt that, certainly at this stage, the assumption made by Lorenzo and his circle was erroneous. This can be seen from the other company that Pico kept during his residence in Florence. Besides becoming a favourite of the liberal
cultural ambassadors for their native city. For him, art always had both a higher and a lower purpose, even at home. Prior to using his artists as instruments of foreign policy, he had employed them in Florence to contribute to the flamboyant celebrations that he laid on to maintain his popularity with the people of the city, as well as to mark historic events. In this way, Botticelli had been commissioned to paint an exemplary public mural depicting the hanging bodies of those apprehended after
other main axis ally, the Kingdom of Naples. The veto of Savonarola’s plans by the Vicar General of the Lombardy Congregation presented Piero de’ Medici with a perfect opportunity to pursue his new foreign policy. He decided to send a delegation to petition Pope Alexander VI for the Dominican Congregation of Tuscany to be declared independent of the Dominican Congregation of Lombardy, as this link was no more than a historical anomaly, which no longer bore any relevance to contemporary Church
favours of him as you can. The Pope soon tires of those who bend his ears ... so when you see him, talk of amusing subjects, but modestly, in order to please him. All this had served the new cardinal in good stead, and he had been welcomed by the ailing Innocent VIII. However, this happy situation had not lasted for long. With the pope’s death in August 1492 the situation in Rome had changed drastically, in a way that even a seasoned member of the College of Cardinals would have found difficult