A gripping and beautifully written narrative that reads like a novel, Fire in the City presents a compelling account of a key moment in the history of the Renaissance, illuminating the remarkable man who dominated the period, the charismatic Savonarola.
Lauro Martines, whose decades of scholarship have made him one of the most admired historians of Renaissance Italy, here provides a remarkably fresh perspective on Girolamo Savonarola, the preacher and agitator who flamed like a comet through late fifteenth-century Florence. The Dominican friar has long been portrayed as a dour, puritanical demagogue who urged his followers to burn their worldly goods in "the bonfire of the vanities." But as Martines shows, this is a caricature of the truththe version propagated by the wealthy and powerful who feared the political reforms he represented. In fact, Savonarola emerges as a complex and subtle man: compassionate, wise, a poet and scholar, and even, at critical moments, a force for moderation. The friar, a mesmerizing preacher, set the city afire with his message of Christian charity wedded to republican ideals.
It is this realityof Savonarola as both religious and civic leaderthat Martines captures in all its complexity, showing how he inspired an outpouring of political debate in a city newly freed from the tyranny of the Medici. In the end, the volatile passions he unleashedand the powerful families he threatenedsent the friar to his own fiery death. But the fusion of morality and politics that he represented would leave a lasting mark on Renaissance Florence.
For the many readers fascinated by histories of Renaissance Italysuch as Brunelleschi's Dome or Galileo's Daughter, and Martines's acclaimed April BloodFire in the City offers a vivid portrait of one of the most memorable characters from that dazzling era.
In recent years, Savonarola has sometimes been caricatured as a political and moral terrorist, but Martines refuses to accept this reductionist caricature. The friar certainly worked hard for the moral cleansing of a society that sorely needed it, and he seems to have been honorable, devout and sincere. As Martines reminds us, an old Medici watchword goes " omne nefas victis, victoribus omnia sancta " -- "All crimes to the losers, to the winners all things pure." In the end, while Savonarola may have burned "vanities," the city fathers of Florence, with the approbation of a dissolute and cynical pope, burned the man himself. There's fanaticism, and then there's fanaticism.