Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy by Lauro Martines - review by Jerry Brotton

Jerry Brotton

Fundamentalist Friar

Scourge and Fire: Savonarola and Renaissance Italy

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Following hard on the heels of April Blood: Florence and the Plot against the Medici (2004), Lauro Martines’s Scourge and Fire sees the author taking his story of the Florentine Renaissance on to its next bloody historical episode. Moving from history into biography, Martines takes as his subject the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98) and his unprecedented rise to religious and political influence in Florence over four heady years following the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. Martines’s main aim is to rescue the poor friar from five centuries of predominantly bad press, often written from the perspective of the Medici. These accounts portrayed Savonarola as everything from a religious fanatic fanning the flames of the bonfires of the vanities, to an atheistic hermaphrodite who reduced the glorious centre of the Italian Renaissance to a Year Zero policy of religious fundamentalism. 

Martines, a retired academic renowned for a series of scholarly books on Italian Renaissance humanism, knows his primary sources too well to fall into such traps. His interest is in the religious and rhetorical power of a man whose sermons seduced the likes of Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Pico della Mirandola

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