The Bonfire of the Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Giuseppe Zocchi "The Piazza della Signoria in Florence," undated but likely early 18th Century.

The most famous Bonfire of the Vanities (Falò delle vanità) occurred in Florence in 1497 under the auspices of the controversial reformer Girolamo Savonarola. Books, paintings, mirrors, playing cards, dolls and other vanities perished in the flames. The irony, of course, is that he was burnt at the stake the following year.


The above painting of Savonarola's burning is from 1498, with no known painter. It shows the Piazza della Signoria oddly empty of people - there was a huge crowd for the event. At the rear is the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace), with the Loggia dei Lanzi on the far right. This painting now hangs in the city's Museo di San Marco.

It has been said that Sandro Botticelli indulged in the "Florentine way" (sodomy) and that he agreed to have his paintings burnt in the Bonfire of the Vanities although there is no evidence for either claim.

Below is a painting of book burning by Spanish religious painter Pedro Berruguete: St. Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians, from between 1493 until 1499 and now in the Prado. Supposedly, the books being thrown on the fire are by Saint Dominic and the Albigensians (Cathars) and St.Dominic's books are miraculously preserved from the flames, but the Cathars' books go up in flames.