The Burning of the Vanities: Savonarola and the Borgia Pope

England, 2006 (Sutton)In the 1490s Girolamo Savonarola, a visionary friar, dominated Renaissance Florence, terrifying the city with his uncannily accurate prophecies. Best remembered for his ‘burning of the vanities’ – the destruction of ‘profane art’ – he has often been caricatured as a hell-fire fanatic. Yet Victorian England saw him as an Italian Martin Luther while his career inspired George Eliot’s novel Romola. His unbdoinmg was his denunciation and attempt to overthrow the Borgia Alexander VI, one of the most corrupt popes in history: had he succeeded, he might have averted the Reformation. But Alexander turned the Florentines against him, and he was hanged in chains and burned. In this account of a great Renaissance tragedy, Seward portrays Savonarola as a surprisingly human figure.

‘the true amateur’s eye for everything that is beguiling and troubling about late-medieval civilisation …Seward has always written beautifully and this is his best book.’
Damian Thompson, Sunday Telegraph

‘Desmond Seward’s admirable new book … factual and straightforward.’
Piers Paul Read, Sunday Times