Death in Florence

Death in Florence

by Paul Strathern


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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 they possessed a diplomat capable of guarding the militarily weak city in a climate of constantly shifting allegiances. However, in Savonarola, an unprepossessing provincial monk, Lorenzo found his nemesis. Filled with Old Testament fury, Savonarola's sermons reverberated among a disenfranchised population, who preferred medieval Biblical certainties to the philosophical interrogations and intoxicating surface glitter of the Renaissance. 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? 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 06/01/2015
Eschewing a one-sided approach, Strathern (The Venetians) fashions an engrossing portrayal of the two legendary 15th-century figures who shaped Renaissance Florence: Lorenzo (the Magnificent) de’ Medici and Girolamo Savonarola. Lorenzo, self-indulgent yet capable, was head of the city-state’s most powerful family, and used his “diplomatic skill” to cement Florence as a major power and forge an alliance with Pope Innocent VIII. Savonarola was a fiery monk whose severe shift toward a charismatic asceticism ironically placed him in direct conflict with multiple popes. Strathern demonstrates a thorough understanding of the city-state’s internal and external influences, and he walks readers through the tumultuous transition from the Medieval era to the Renaissance’s “new vision of humanism.” In well-considered prose, Strathern argues that these two figures battled for the “direction that humanity should take,” further illustrating the struggle for Florence’s soul via Savonarola-convert Sandro Botticelli’s artistic descent from exuberant classicism to brimstone imagery. This enjoyable and pleasantly articulate look into the inner workings of two larger-than-life entities (the de’ Medici family and the Church) offers unexpected insight into the theology, philosophy, and society that eventually cemented Florence as a Renaissance center of political and cultural import. Illus. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management (Aug.)

Shelf Awareness

Savonarola's brief reign is often treated as an interlude of religious fanaticism within the enlightened secularism of the Renaissance. In Death in Florence, Paul Strathern paints a more complicated picture, placing Savonarola within a broader context.

Providence Journal

This massive, mesmerizing, detail-rich, compulsive narrative of the collision between silver and the soul, Mammon and religious mysteries, will keep you turning the pages like the most propulsive of historical thrillers. Strathern balances both detail and narrative drive, so that you never lose sight of either one. The stories and intrigue and behind-the-scenes maneuverings will chill your blood as much as they excites it.

The Financial Times

Strathern combines diligent research with an exemplary narrative verve and keeps the pages turning.

Booklist (starred review)

This is more than a dual biography. It’s a social and religious history,
showing the tension that still holds between secularism and religion. A
riveting narrative history.

The New Statesman

Grips the reader from the first page. It is an arresting and horrifying tale and Strathern tells it with immense skill and verve

Times Literary Supplement

A vivid tale told in great detail.

Library Journal

★ 06/01/2015
Fans of television shows such as The Borgias and The Tudors, or even Game of Thrones, will find no end of entertainment in this in-depth chronicle of the real-life events of the Medici family in Renaissance Florence. No fictional embellishment is needed for the political intrigue described in Strathern's (The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance) latest work. The author paints a vivid picture of the struggle of the Medicis to maintain control over Florence as a passionate bishop fought against them, purporting to restore a true republic. With reproductions of Renaissance artwork and architecture as well as passages from contemporary historians, critics, and notable figures, Strathern's history envelopes the reader in the world of medieval Italy, with its vitality and violence, intellect and turmoil. VERDICT Lovers of medieval history will be pulled into this informative and gripping account; academics will find it a credible source of historical knowledge. Strathern's approachable, objective style turns a litany of information into a spellbinding saga worthy of prime time. A thrilling and informative chronicle of one of the Renaissance's most notorious dynasties.—Kathleen Dupré, Edmond, OK

Kirkus Reviews

Boko Haram and the Taliban are uniquely bloodthirsty, but they follow a long tradition of puritan reformers, among them the subject of this book, the Italian Dominican friar Savonarola (1452-1498). Savonarola gets terrible press, admits novelist and historian Strathern (The Venetians: A New History: From Marco Polo to Casanova, 2013, etc.), in this lively history of a bizarre period during Italy's golden age. The author opens with a portrait of Renaissance Florence under Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492), who governed through bribes, threats, and strategic marriages but with far more skill than fellow rulers. Strathern admires him but shows equal sympathy with the charismatic friar, already creating a stir with apocalyptic sermons and attacks on corruption, who became the city's spiritual dictator after Lorenzo's death and the 1494 expulsion of his incompetent son. Savonarola supported a new constitution that produced "the most democratic and open rule the city had ever known." For reasons historians still debate, he presided over a citywide crusade against vice resembling that of the 1990s Taliban. Bands of young men patrolled the streets to punish immodest dress and behavior. In the celebrated bonfire of the vanities, enthusiasts destroyed objects of frivolity (mirrors, playing cards, musical instruments), along with books, paintings, and sculpture. Aided by a hostile papacy, the movement ran out of steam, at which point Savonarola was arrested, tortured, and hung. Some argue that he failed because Florentines wearied of life in a theocracy; others, that a corrupt church killed him, something it failed to do with a later reformer, Martin Luther. Strathern does not take sides as he delivers a deft, often gruesome account of events in that distant era when Christianity was a matter of life and death.

The Dallas Morning News

Medici alone is a fascinating and complicated figure, and Strathern draws a finely shaded portrait of a man who was both connoisseur of the arts and mob boss. But in his final years, de Medici encountered his one serious threat to perpetuating his family's rule: 'the little friar' Girolamo
Savonarola. For Strathern, the battle was between Renaissance humanism and medieval absolutism, as Strathern illustrates in the climactic scene.

The Washington Post

What stands out as much as anything here is the spark and quality of Strathern's writing, its wonderful ability to combine the sweep of history withthe intensely personal. In a single sentence, Strathern captures the broad currents of civic history, the magnetic presence of a remarkable individual, and the specificity of a liturgical and biographical occasion. An engrossing narrative of power, corruption and civic life, a vivid portrait of a city in crisis and the spiritual leader who embodied its aspirations and flaws.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605988269
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Publication date: 08/15/2015
Series: Italian Histories
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 587,600
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.40(d)

Customer Reviews