Renaissance and Reformation Girolamo Savonarola
Stella Fletcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0042


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 sixteenth century. The relevant bibliography is extensive, meaning that the works cited represent a fraction of the whole, to which numerous additions are made each year. Reference Works are followed by Primary Sources, of which there are so many as to require division into Works by Savonarola, his Imprisonment and Execution, and the Early Lives that formed an important part of his posthumous cult. Following the examples of those early vite, the friar’s life easily lends itself to the biographical format, but authors have sought to give it various twists by means of the contexts in which they choose to set it. Consequently, a Lives and Times section seems a reasonable alternative to simple “biographies.” More specific categories and more specialized studies can be found under Prophecy, Florentine Politics and Society, 1494–1498, Savonarolans and Anti-Savonarolans after 1498, Art, and Music. Given that essays on any of those themes can appear in Collections of Papers, that category is left to the end.

Reference Works

The Dizionario biografico degli italiani is the standard biographical reference work for all periods of Italian history and ought to be the student’s first port of call. Its 100 volumes were produced in alphabetical order, meaning that Savonarola came relatively late in the process. Among other reference works, Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique and Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione both contain relatively brief entries on Savonarola. The remaining works cited in this section are bibliographies. Ginori Conti 1939 is the earliest of these, but it is confined to Savonarola’s sermons. Ferrara 1981 is more wide ranging, dealing with both the man and his published works. Weinstein 1991 is not a bibliography, but it is nevertheless a lively and useful guide to literature produced in the years immediately before the deluge of essays produced in the 1990s. Jaspers 1998 is a bibliography of Savonarola’s works published in the Netherlands in the Early Modern period. Scapecchi 1998 takes a different approach, listing editions of the works produced throughout Europe but now in the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. For the wealth of publications generated by the fifth centenary of Savonarola’s brief public career and those which have followed, it is advisable to consult the most recent biographies.

  • Dizionario biografico degli italiani. 100 vols. Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1960–2020.

    The DBI contains entries for all the major figures of relevance to the present subject. The entry on Girolamo Savonarola is by Stefano Dall’Aglio and includes a bibliography up to and including Weinstein 2011 (cited under Lives and Times). There is also an entry on the physician Michele Savonarola online, grandfather of Girolamo, by Remy Simonetti. Both are in Vol. 91 (2018) of the print edition.

  • Ferrara, Mario. Nuova bibliografia savonaroliana. Vaduz, Liechtenstein: Topos Verlag, 1981.

    An essential resource that lists 1,132 works published between 1801 and 1980. All entries have at least short supplementary notes; some have extensive summaries.

  • Ginori Conti, Piero, ed. Bibliografia delle opere del Savonarola. Vol. 1, Cronologia e bibliografia delle prediche. Florence: Fondazione Ginori Conti, 1939.

    Part 1 lists the sermons in the order in which they were delivered, together with any translations. Part 2 is a chronological list of publications of or about the sermons, beginning in 1486. Some of the commentaries are by Roberto Ridolfi, who duly became Savonarola’s biographer (see Lives and Times).

  • Jaspers, Gerard. Savonarola (1452–1498) in de Nederlanden: Een Bibliografie. Amsterdam: De Buitenkant, 1998.

    An illustrated bibliography that demonstrates the significance of Savonarola in a region of Europe that readily accepted the Reformed religion and even produced a number of notable Anabaptist extremists.

  • Pelliccia, Guerrino, and Giancarlo Rocca, eds. Dizionario degli istituti di perfezione. 10 vols. Rome: Edizioni Paoline, 1974–2003.

    The standard reference work for the history of religious orders, including the Dominican friars (“Frati predicatori”) in Volume 4, coll. 923–970 and Savonarola (by T. S. Centi) in Volume 8, coll. 944–947.

  • Scapecchi, Piero, ed. Catalogo delle edizioni di Girolamo Savonarola (secc. XV–XVI) possedute dalla Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. Savonarola e la Toscana 5. Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1998.

    Details of each edition of each Savonarolan text in the collection of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. There are 271 editions in all.

  • Viller, Marcel, F. Cavallera, and J. de Guibert, eds. Dictionnaire de spiritualité, ascétique et mystique: Doctrine et histoire. 17 vols. Paris: G. Beauchesne et ses fils, 1937–1995.

    The entry on Savonarola (Vol. 14, coll. 370–388) is by Armando F. Verde O. P., one of the leading authorities on the subject, and includes a bibliography of works published before 1990.

  • Weinstein, Donald. “Hagiography, Demonology, Biography: Savonarola Studies Today.” Journal of Modern History 63.3 (1991): 483–503.

    DOI: 10.1086/244353

    Though largely devoted to reviewing the excesses of Cordero 1986–1988 (cited under Lives and Times), Weinstein’s survey also traces Savonarolan historiography and is particularly useful for providing coverage of the immediate post-Ferrara decade.

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