Written by CNN
Last night, February 7 1494, Girolamo Savonarola, the controversial Dominican friar, held his latest and most incendiary Bonfire of the Vanities at Piazza della Signoria. In addition to the typical offerings, the Savonarola and his “Piagnoni” supporters decided to set the Medici bank, the iconic symbol of the powerful Medici family, aflame.
This latest Bonfire marks a continuation of Savonarola’s apocryphal teachings and yet another occasion where the group burned art, books, and clothing. These items are called vanities because their existence and the cultural values they represent oppose the Catholic piety expected of the Florentines.
The Bonfire, like the many before this, featured the Piagnoni dressed in white with red crosses accenting the outfits. In the middle of the Piazza della Signoria, under a Satanic effigy, a great wooden structure was built to house the vanities being offered.
The sheer volume of the items collected by Savonarola’s followers reflect his growing power and the waning influence of the Medicis’. Art featuring female Biblical characters was among the works considered ‘heretical’ by Savonarola, as well as pieces that depicted luxury and leading political figures like the Medici.
Savonarola’s influence has even extended to Sandro Botticelli, one of the most respected artists in contemporary art circles. Botticelli has commissioned some of his works to the bonfire, though he has shown some restraint with his more popular paintings, like the Birth of Venus. Not even Dante’s poems have escaped the wrath of the Piagnoni, since they feature themes considered heretical to Savonarola.
There is much speculation that this latest bonfire is a signal of a greater change in the Florentine balance of power. With the burning of the Medici bank, it’s clear that the Florentians have lost respect for the Medicis and are ready for a new form of governance. Whether Savonarola plays a part in this new leadership hierarchy is still to be determined, but he certainly has a firm grip over the mind of the populace. He has recently began to walk with a security detail.
Since 1490, Savonarola has been working his way through the piazzas of the city preaching a world cataclysm nearing in 1500. His sermons began attracting quite a crowd, despite a lack of formal support from the diocese.
Various other bonfires have been held throughout Italy and France, but none have gained the same level of support as Savonarola and the Florentine fires.