Thursday, March 4, 2010

Savonarola and the Carnival of 1497

First, here are some nice collections of Carnival photos:

Joe Marquez (The Smoking Camera)

Anna Pagnacco

Frantisek Staud


Silvano Candeo

Alaskan Dude

Oliver F. Lehmann

[I know, I know. These are all pics from the Venetian Carnival, not the Florentine. If anyone knows of any comparable collections of photos from the Florentine Carnival, please let me know!]

. . . . . . . .

The Carnival of 1497

A little later the carnival of 1497 drew nigh. Savonarola determined to celebrate it in a manner Florence had never witnessed. And to this day she remembers it. Some others also recall it—not with approbation, but with astonishment. At that period, probably no other city excelled Florence in wealth. It was replete with luxury.

Among the carnival customs was the making of bonfires on the plaza in the evening of Shrove Tuesday, and the dancing around them while singing songs. The reader will recall that at the last carnival, a great reform was affected through the children. This year Savonarola determined a more sweeping change should take place. To this end he enlisted, under the generalship of Fra Domenico, a band of youths, who should traverse the city, "dressed as angels, and calling from door to door for whatsoever articles were calculated to minister to luxury, or worldliness, to be consumed upon the bonfire."

Many delivered up their possessions, while others considered these "angels" a most unheavenly order. However, the amount of trinkets, ornaments, money, books of bad tendency, pictures, sculptures, and designs accumulated, was marvelous. An immense scaffolding, pyramidal in form, with fifteen tiers of shelves arranged around it, was erected on the plaza chosen for the grand display. The pyramid was filled with fagots; and the shelves, with the articles to be destroyed. Many of them were the works of famous artists and writers. Bartolommeo and Lorenzo di Credi contributed many of their designs.

Women contributed to the senseless waste, costly India shawls, expensive perfumes, and other articles innumerable. Men increased the flames with chess-boards, cards, card-tables, and instruments of music. Burlamacchi relates that for the collection, before the torch was applied, a merchant of Venice offered nearly twenty thousand pounds sterling. But his offer was rejected, and the man's portrait—placed above the colossal figure intended to personify the carnival—was burned therewith. A wild mob danced around the blazing pile to the music of trumpets.

[Savonarola, the Florentine Martyr, by Emma Hildreth Adams, published in 1890]

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