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said, “Thou art mad;' lastly, St. Francis, in whom he might certainly have found better authority for his mystical ecstasy• This is the effect of divine love.' • What would ye say if I should make you all, old men and old women, dance every one around the crucifix; and I, the maddest of all, in the midst of all ?'— Predica 41, sopra Amos.
The Pope, on the intelligence of these doings, during the Lent of 1496, appointed a commission of fourteen theologians, all Dominicans. Only the result of their deliberations is known; all but one condemned Savonarola as guilty of heresy, schism, and disobedience to the Holy See. Yet some unknown cause, perhaps the powerful influence of some of the cardinals, for he had cardinals among his admirers, more likely some more urgent occupation, delayed the tardy anathema. On November 7 arrived a brief uniting St. Mark to a new Tuscan province of his order; Savonarola ceased to be vicargeneral.
The more eventful year 1497 opened with the accession of a signory in which the Piagroni, his serious followers, obtained the ascendancy: at the head stood his noble partisan Francesco Valori. But they seem to have committed a fatal political error. The Grand Council, deducting the aged, sick, and infirm, was now reduced to 2,200. To fill it up they extended the age of admission to twenty-four years: but among the citizens of that age a great majority were of the Compagnacci, the gay youth of the Medicean faction. These were older than the children, who were all under his sway, younger than the more sober citizens, who had groaned under the yoke of the Medici. Savonarola would distinguish this carnival with still further solemn abnegation of its profane rejoicings. Florence should make a costly sacrifice of her vanities and worldly treasures. Days before, his young police were sent around on their rigid inquest to compel the people to surrender all their treasures of
• Religious dancing seems to be a favourite notion with Saronarola. He says to his faithful disciples, “Se tu morrai, ti troverai a ballare con li angeli.'-On Amos, Pred. xxxir. p. 352.
ornament, arts, and letters, which might offend the most fastidious monkish delicacy. A vast pyre was erected in the Piazza. At the bottom were masks, false beards, masquerading dresses, all the wild attire of satyrs, harlequins, and devils, worn of old in the riotous days; above them books of Italian and Latin poetry, the Morgante, the works of Boccaccio and even Petrarch; then came whole female toilets, perfumes, mirrors, veils, false hair; then instruments of music, lyres, flutes, guitars, cards, chess-tables, draft-boards; the two upper layers were pictures, portraits of the most famous beauties of Florence, the works of the greatest masters. Whatever painting betrayed one gleam of human nakedness was heaped up for the sacrifice. Among the famous artists who threw with unaverted faces all their academical studies on the pyre were Baccio della Porta, known afterwards as one of the holiest and most perfect of painters, Fra Bartolomeo, and Lorenzo di Credi. Such was the value of the holocaust, that a Venetian merchant offered to purchase it at 20,000 crowns.
The austere Signory revenged this outrage on morality by ordering a picture of the merchant to be painted and thrown into the fire. How little discrimination would be shown in a moral inquest thus held by fanatic boys and an ascetic monk may easily be surmised. As to letters, Savonarola in his sermons constantly devotes all the poets, ancient and modern, and even Plato, who himself condemned poets, to hell fire. Among the artists, not only Fra Bartolomeo, Lorenzo di Credi, but others, such as that wonderful inventor of a new art, Luca della Robbia, were among his most ardent disciples, and were faithful to the end to their holy teacher. No doubt the pure and lofty religious emotions excited by the Friar in their congenial minds combined with their exquisite genius in sanctifying the paintings of these great masters almost to the utmost height of sanctity. No doubt much good was wrought by a protest against that naturalism, into which high art was inclined to degenerate, which scrupled not to embody the features of the beauties of the day, who were not always of the purest life, in Magdalenes,
saints, and the Holy Virgin herself. Yet we cannot but think the eloquent panegyric of M. Rio, in his “ Art chrétien,' much overdrawn. Both he and M. Cartier, in the Annales archéologiques' for 1847, frame a perfect theory of the Beautiful, an æsthetic system, with much fervent ingenuity and some truth, from the writings of Savonarola. We have not space to enter into these interesting questions, but we think that we could show that not a little of this was but the commonplace philosophy of the day, in which Savonarola was fully read; and that there must be a more faithful balance of his denunciations against the homage which he pays, or rather the indulgence which he sometimes shows, to letters and to arts. If painting had never left the cloister, to which Savonarola would have driven it back, how many of its noblest works had been lost to mankind. In truth, Savonarola was in some respects almost an iconoclast: against nothing is he more vehement than in his denunciation of the wealth wasted on magnificent buildings and on rich and stately ceremonials.
The events of the year darkened as it advanced; a doubtful signory was installed on March 1. The malignants (the Arrabbiati) and the faction of the Medici began to come to an understanding against the common object of their hatred. Piero de' Medici made an attempt on the city. Savonarola, who during the Lent was continuing his sermons on Ezekiel, was consulted as the oracle of Florence. O ye of little faith, Piero de' Medici shall approach the gates, but shall not enter the city. Piero de' Medici, with a powerful troop, approached the gates, trusting to his faction within; they remained sternly closed, and he retired in discomfiture. So writes the historian Nardi, and other documents confirm his statement. But with Savonarola's knowledge of the state of Florence, he needed no prophet's inspiration. On May 1 a signory, avowedly hostile to the friar, assumed the government. He was to preach on Ascension Day, May 4. On the eve, some wretches, with the connivance of certain priests, stole into the church, heaped the pulpit with filth, spread an ass's skin as a pulpit-cushion, and
ran nails with their points upwards into the board, that in his energy he might strike his hands against them. By some accounts it was a dead ass placed on the preacher's seat. But his disciples were on the watch ; the pulpit was cleansed; and his enemies had the disappointment of beholding him ascend with perfect calmness. His sermon was unusually quiet and dignified, with less of the ordinary invective. The high-born rabble tried other means of annoyance. The Signory, pretending solicitude for the public peace, entreated the Friar to abstain for a time from preaching.
On May 12 the Pope at length determined to hurl the terrible bull of excommunication against the rebellious Friar. It had long impended. At Rome his old antagonist, Fra Mariano di Ghinezzano, had preached against him, urging the Pope to vengeance. In his sermons in March Savonarola had prepared his hearers for the blow. The Papal bull is lost, but it contained three charges—I. The refusal to obey the summons to Rome; II. Perverse and heretical doctrines; III. The refusal to unite St. Mark to the Tuscan and Roman provinces. On May 22 Savonarola addressed a short letter to the Pope. He protested solemnly against the charge of heresy; he appealed to his hearers, to his printed sermons, to his great work about to appear, “The Triumph of the Cross.' On Fra Mariano he took a revenge neither high-minded nor Christian. He accused him of having spoken ill of the Pope, whom Fra Girolamo had defended against his insolent invective. “Reprocher son ingratitude à un Pape sans entrailles, c'était une première maladresse.' So justly observes M. Perrens. Some other parts of his letter rest on poor equivocations. A short time after came an apology, then two more letters, and a cloud of apologetic writings from his partisans, labouring with ineffective subtlety to reconcile that which was irreconcilable, flagrant disobedience to the Papal supremacy with the theory of the most profound and entire obedience.
In June the plague broke out in Florence. Some letters written by Savonarola at the time to his relatives show that the
tenderness of his domestic affections was not chilled by fanaticism, by power, or by peril. M. Perrens hints that he betrayed want of Christian courage in avoiding exposure during these sad times. He was not by the bedside of the sick, he was not burying the dead, he sent away most of the young friars (a proper precaution), he shut himself up with the rest in their cells; his disciples might come to consult him, but he went not forth into the pestilence-stricken streets. So writes M. Perrens; we think not quite fairly, for nothing can surpass his calm faith in God: he had been urged to withdraw, and was offered many pleasant places of retirement, but he would not abandon his flock. He stayed to console the afflicted, the secular as well as the brethren, and describes the joy of those who regarded with equal delight life or death : they sleep, they do not die.? For a time the strife of the Arrabbiati and Piagnoni was suspended by the common danger. A terrible event, however, occurred at Rome—the murder of the Duke of Gandia, the son of the Pope—of which there is an appalling incident related in the despatches of one of the Venetian ambassadors• The wild wail of the bereaved old man in the Castle of S. Angelo was heard in the streets around.' Savonarola addressed a letter to the Pope. This letter is disappointing, and for that very reason we are inclined to believe its authenticity. It is neither the awful denunciation of the prophet, nor the gentle suasion of an evangelic teacher. There is one brief hint that it may be the beginning of the accomplishment of the Friar's dark predictions: the rest is cold, courteous sympathy, and nothing
At this time, when the Pope's mind was unhinged, and, it might be hoped, the remorseless passion of hatred in some degree allayed, strong efforts were made by a favourable Signory, by many of the highest influence in Florence and in
"Lettera a Maestro Alberto, p. 131.
. . Yet,' writes Captain Napier, 'the Pope's mistress too, Giulia Farnese, who was called La Giulia Bella, and conspicuously, nay, even ostentatiously, exhibited at all the gre..t religious festivals, had increased the public scandal by producing another son to occupy the place of him whose blood had so lately reddened the hand of the fratricide.'--History of Florence, iii. p. 603.