Death in Florence illuminates one of the defining moments in Western history - the bloody and dramatic story of the battle for the soul of Renaissance Florence.
By the end of the fifteenth century, Florence was well established as the home of the Renaissance. As generous patrons to the likes of Botticelli and Michelangelo, the ruling Medici embodied the progressive humanist spirit of the age, and in Lorenzo de' Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) they possessed a diplomat capable of guarding the militarily weak city in a climate of constantly shifting allegiances between the major Italian powers.
However, in the form of Savonarola, an unprepossessing provincial monk, Lorenzo found his nemesis. Filled with Old Testament fury and prophecies of doom, Savonarola's sermons reverberated among a disenfranchised population, who preferred medieval biblical certainties to the philosophical interrogations and intoxicating surface glitter of the Renaissance. Savonarola's aim was to establish a "City of God" for his followers, a new kind of democratic state, the likes of which the world had never seen before. The battle between these two men would be a fight to the death, a series of sensational events - invasions, trials by fire, the "Bonfire of the Vanities," terrible executions, and mysterious deaths - featuring a cast of the most important and charismatic Renaissance figures.
Was this a simple clash of wills between a benign ruler and religious fanatic? Between secular pluralism and repressive extremism? In an exhilaratingly rich and deeply researched story, Paul Strathern reveals the paradoxes, self-doubts, and political compromises that made the battle for the soul of the Renaissance city one of the most complex and important moments in Western history.
©2015 Paul Strathern (P)2015 Blackstone Audio
At last I reasonably "get" what the Renaissance city-states and their key players were about. The whole tapestry finally makes sense. The narrative here swings effortlessly from personality nuances to (literally) Machiavellian calculations to colorful (from lovely to bloody and murky) scenes to the arts to religious thought. And the crossovers and collisions are beautifully detailed. This does not go deep into the mechanics of the Medici banking, but for that it does cite and lightly quote my favorite source: Raymond de Roover's writings. The narration is English-accented which for me seems to call to life the grace of the flowering Florentine Renaissance, maybe because of my introduction to all this via Sir Kenneth Clark's art history in the 1970s.
A favorite moment: the Tuscans, accustomed to mainly show-battles in which relatively few fatalities happened, and losers were allowed to gracefully withdraw for another show-battle another day, suddenly run into a new arrival: an invading army of brutal, methodical, trained killers from France. Or again, the absolute weirdness of the crowd in Florence in a "high noon" moment waiting in the town square with bated breath (and doubtless much more chaotic behaviors) for the monk, Savonarola, to produce a dramatic public miracle. Sometimes the hinge of history turns in just such a moment. There are many such here.
Well researched and written account of the rise and fall of Savonarola. Strathern captures the dramatic arc of events with incisive portraits of the major and minor players. Perkins' narration is smooth and well paced, with excellent pronunciation of Latin and Italian. Highly recommended for anyone interested in Renaissance and church history.
This book does a nice job and allowing us to see how the Medici family came to and maintained its power in Florence at the end of the 15th century. It also examines the power and influence of the preacher/profit/theologian Savonarola. The author provides adequate detail and mentions alternative views than his own within the narrative. It is adequate and informative, but the storytelling was in my estimation, less than riveting. It maybe that Lorenzo and Savonarola just weren't that compelling if you weren't living under the actual power of their personalities.
This is a very well-written story that is balanced and easy to comprehend even though there are many characters. My only concern is that the author and several of his sources seem to dismiss the very real fact that God does intervene in the affairs of men. This bias does not materially detract from the excellent presentation so I highly recommend this book.
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