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(897 posts)
Wed Feb 7, 2024, 08:57 AM Feb 7

On This Day: Florentines burn art, books, cosmetics, etc. in Bonfire of the Vanities - Feb. 7, 1497

(edited from Wikipedia)
Bonfire of the Vanities

A bonfire of the vanities is a burning of objects condemned by religious authorities as occasions of sin. The phrase itself usually refers to the bonfire of 7 February 1497, when supporters of the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in the public square of Florence, Italy, on the occasion of Shrove Tuesday, martedí grasso.

Francesco Guicciardini's The History of Florence gives a firsthand account of the 1497 Florentine bonfire of the vanities. The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards, and musical instruments. Other targets included books that Savonarola deemed immoral (such as works by Boccaccio), manuscripts of secular songs, and artworks, including paintings and sculptures.


Although often associated with Savonarola, such bonfires had been a common accompaniment to the outdoor sermons of San Bernardino di Siena in the first half of the 15th century.


Fra Girolamo Savonarola was a Dominican friar who was assigned to work in Florence in 1490 at the request of Lorenzo de' Medici – although within a few years, Savonarola became one of the foremost enemies of the House of Medici and helped bring about their downfall in 1494. Savonarola campaigned against what he considered to be the artistic and social excesses of Renaissance Italy, preaching with great vigor against any luxury.

His power and influence grew so much that with time, he became the effective ruler of Florence and had soldiers for his protection following him around.

Starting in February 1495, during the time in which the festival known as Carnival occurred, Savonarola began to host a regular "bonfire of the vanities". He collected objects that he considered objectionable: manuscripts, sculptures, paintings, tapestries, and many other works of art, as well as mirrors, musical instruments, and books on divination, astrology, and magic.

Anyone who tried to object found their hands being forced by teams of Savonarola supporters. These supporters called themselves Piagnoni ("Weepers " ) after a public nickname that was initially intended as an insult.

Savonarola's influence did not go unnoticed by the higher church officials, however, and his actions came to the attention of Pope Alexander VI. He was excommunicated on 13 May 1497. He was charged with heresy and sedition at the command of Pope Alexander VI. Savonarola was executed by hanging on 23 May 1498, and his body was burnt. His death occurred in the Piazza della Signoria, where he had previously held his bonfires of the vanities. Then the papal authorities gave word that anyone in possession of the friar's writings had four days to turn them over to a papal agent for destruction. Anyone who did not comply also faced excommunication.


Although some later sources reported that the Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli burned several of his paintings based on classical mythology in the great Florentine bonfire of 1497, the primary source on his life, Vasari's biography, does not mention this, and no early record does either. Vasari does assert that Botticelli produced nothing after coming under the influence of Savonarola, but that is not accepted by modern art historians, and several of his paintings are assigned dates after Savonarola's death in 1498. The art historian Rab Hatfield says that one of Botticelli's paintings, The Mystical Nativity, cryptically dated 1500, is based on the sermon Savonarola delivered on Christmas Eve, 1493.

Writing several centuries later, in 1851, Orestes Brownson, an apologist for Savonarola, vaguely mentions artworks by Fra Bartolomeo, Lorenzo di Credi, and "many other painters", along with "several antique statues" being burnt in the bonfire.

In popular culture

The event has been represented or mentioned in varying degrees of detail in several works ... including the Showtime series The Borgias, The Sky (Italy) and the Netflix (North America) series Borgia, and the third season (2019) of the Netflix (North America) series Medici in the final episode titled "The Fate of the City."

As a metaphor, Tom Wolfe used the event and ritual as the title for his 1987 novel The Bonfire of the Vanities and its film adaptation.


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On This Day: Florentines burn art, books, cosmetics, etc. in Bonfire of the Vanities - Feb. 7, 1497 (Original Post) jgo Feb 7 OP
Oh, the humanities! cachukis Feb 7 #1
Ha. Good one. FalloutShelter Feb 7 #3
Thanks for posting this! FalloutShelter Feb 7 #2
You're most welcome. jgo Feb 7 #4
I think vanity won, hands down EYESORE 9001 Feb 7 #5


(11,825 posts)
2. Thanks for posting this!
Wed Feb 7, 2024, 09:27 AM
Feb 7

Did not know about the Bonfire of The Vanities, until I read the Tom Wolfe book and was intrigued by the title.
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