Bonfire of the vanities

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Bonfire of the vanities
IMG 0797 - Perugia - San Bernardino - Agostino di Duccio -1457-61- - Falò delle vanità - Foto G. Dall'O2.jpg
Bernardino of Siena organising a vanities bonfire, Perugia, from the Oratory of San Bernardino, by Agostino di Duccio, built between 1457 and 1461
Native name Falò delle vanità
Date7 February 1497 (1497-02-07)
LocationFlorence, Italy
TypeBurning of objects condemned by authorities as occasions of sin
ThemeSupporters of Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects, such as cosmetics, art, and books

A bonfire of the vanities (Italian: falò delle vanità) 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.[1][2]

Francesco Guicciardini's The History of Florence gives a firsthand account of the 1497 Florentine bonfire of the vanities.[3] 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 which Savonarola deemed immoral (such as works by Boccaccio), manuscripts of secular songs, and artworks, including paintings and sculpture.


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.[4]


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.[5] Savonarola campaigned against what he considered to be the artistic and social excesses of Renaissance Italy, preaching with great vigor against any sort of 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.[6]

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 various objects that he considered to be objectionable: irreplaceable manuscripts, ancient sculptures, antique and modern paintings, priceless tapestries, and many other valuable works of art, as well as mirrors, musical instruments, and books on divination, astrology, and magic.[citation needed]

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 originally intended as an insult.[7]

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. The charges were heresy and sedition at the command of Pope Alexander VI.[8] Savonarola was executed on 23 May 1498, hanged on a cross and burned to death. His death occurred in the Piazza della Signoria, where he had previously held his bonfires of the vanities.[8][9] 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.[10]


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 main 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.[11]

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.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

The event has been represented or mentioned in varying degrees of detail in a number of works of historical fiction, including George Eliot's Romola (1863), E. R. Eddison's A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's The Palace (1978), Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1992), Roger Zelazny and Robert Sheckley's If at Faust You Don't Succeed (1993), Timothy Findley's Pilgrim (1999), Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's Rule of Four (2004), Jeanne Kalogridis's I, Mona Lisa (2006), Traci L. Slatton's The Botticelli Affair (2013), and Jodi Taylor's No Time Like the Past (2015), and in television dramas 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." Other references in popular culture include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Deimling, Barbara (2000). Sandro Botticelli. Taschen. p. 79. ISBN 978-3-8228-5992-6.
  2. ^ "". Archived from the original on 17 May 2008.
  3. ^ Guicciardini, Francesco (1970). The History of Florence. Translated by Domandi, Mario (1st ed.). New York: Harper.
  4. ^  Robinson, Paschal (1907). "St. Bernardine of Siena". In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^ Martines p. 19
  6. ^ Martines p. 1
  7. ^ Green, J. & Karolides, N. (2005) Savonrola, Fra Girolamo. In Encyclopedia of Censorship: New Edition. New York, NY: Facts On File, Inc. p. 495
  8. ^ a b Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. China: Skyhorse Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-60239-706-4.
  9. ^ Italy: Savonarola. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007.
  10. ^ Martines, pp. 168, 275–277
  11. ^ Rab Hatfield, "Botticelli's Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 58 (1995), pp. 88–114
  12. ^ Orestes Brownson, "Savonarola: his Contest with Paganism", Brownson's Quarterly Review, April 1851, Orestes Brownson Society, Archived 15 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Wolfe, Tom (21 February 2002). The Bonfire of the Vanities (First Picador ed.). New York. ISBN 978-1-4299-6056-4. OCLC 861510765.
  14. ^ Rice, Anne (1999). The vampire Armand. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-0-345-46453-8. OCLC 773710170.
  15. ^ "Sequence 13: Bonfire of the Vanities". IGN. Ziff Davis, LLC. 14 November 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  16. ^ Plunkett, Luke (24 February 2010). "Assassin's Creed II: Bonfire Of The Vanities Micro-Review: Once More, With Fleeing". Kotaku. Gizmodo Media Group. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  17. ^ Reed, Kristan (23 February 2010). "Assassin's Creed II: Bonfire of the Vanities". Eurogamer. Gamer Network. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  18. ^ Fricker, Karen (29 April 2016). "Jordan Tannahill gives us history for the disempowered". The Toronto Star. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 15 May 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Martines, L (2006). Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence. Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]