The Bonfire of the Vanities
Today, February 7, marks the anniversary of the Bonfire of the Vanities, an event which took place in Florence, Italy in 1497.
Savonarola, a Dominican Friar, had been preaching against (what he perceived to be) the material and artistic excesses present in Florence, arguing in contrast for a life of austerity. He objected to the veneration shown for classical texts and images even as Florence was an epicenter of the High Renaissance. On February 7 was held the Bonfire of the Vanities, with “Vanities” including everything from ancient secular manuscripts to cosmetics to mirrors to secular (as contrasted with religious) paintings. As recited in Ivan Cloulas (trans. Gilda Roberts), The Borgias at 134, “His hold over the Florentines was such that on February 7, 1497, on the Piazza della Signoria, he set up the famous ‘bonfire of the vanities,’ on which lascivious paintings, obscene books, lutes, pomades, perfumes, mirrors, dolls, playing cards, gaming tables, and scores of other articles were confined to the flames.” Exactly what was lost cannot be known.
Savonarola would ultimately be excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI and suffered death by hanging in 1498; his body was burnt and the ashes cast into the river. Adding to that insult, his execution took place in the Piazza della Signoria.