Renaissance and Reformation Girolamo Savonarola
by
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0042

Introduction

Born in Ferrara, Girolamo Savonarola (b. 1452–d. 1498) entered the Dominican order in Bologna in 1475. After spells in Florence, San Gimignano, and Brescia, he returned to Florence under Medicean patronage in 1490 and was elected prior of the convent of San Marco the following year. From 1493 he became a thorn in the side of Pope Alexander VI by separating San Marco from the Lombard Congregation of the Dominican order. In 1494 Savonarola used his Lenten sermons to predict the descent of the French into Italy, and his Advent sermons to inspire constitutional reforms to fill the political vacuum created by the expulsion of the Medici. Thereafter his preaching instigated social and spiritual reform in Florence and created a party of ardent followers, the Piagnoni (literally “Wailers”), though the famous “bonfires of vanities,” into which citizens moved by the Savonarolan call to repent threw worldly treasures such as cosmetics and playing cards, did not take place until 1497 and 1498. His criticisms of the pope led to his excommunication in May 1497, and a hemorrhaging of support among Florentines resulted in his arrest, imprisonment, admission of heresy under torture, and, finally, to his execution in the Piazza della Signoria on 23 May 1498. His followers preserved his reputation as an ecclesiastical reformer throughout the 16th century.

General Overviews

Although there is a clear chronological divide between the composition of the early lives of Savonarola by his followers and the revival of interest in him in the 19th and 20th centuries, both groups of biographers shared a determination to vindicate or rehabilitate their hero. For the most part, recent studies have taken a more detached approach.

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