22nd June 2007
Although little is written about what influence the mutinous monk Savonarola may have had on Renaissance art, his searing presence must have had some impact. The glow of his latent fire seems to dominate the era - flickering torches lit the streets as his sermons gained popularity – his very manner burning with intensity as he raged against the city of Florence for its decadence. His claims that God was speaking through him inflamed the population as he accused the church of commissioning paintings that made the Virgin “look like a whore”. Full of renunciation of worldly pleasures, the God-fearing people of Florence stacked their treasures into a towering and elaborate pyre of vanities in the Piazza Della Signoria and danced as they were engulfed by flames.
There followed a bizarre challenge to prove his faith, the ‘Trial by fire’. Such was the reluctance of both the Dominicans and the Franciscans to perform this fiery walk to righteousness, that there were cries of joy when a freak thunderstorm called the whole thing off. The mob, defrauded of their entertainment, went wild with fury and Savonarola’s time was up.
Accused of heresy, his end is full of unbearable torture and treachery, leading to his blazing execution alongside his two companions in the Piazza. It is said that the scaffold resembled a cross and that Savonarola met his death with dignity.
I imagine the Piazza packed with Florentines, the scaffold stark against the old stone of the Palazzo Vecchio. Flames, a simmering sky full of crouching clouds and fetid smoke, air thick with choking ashes and the stinging smell of burning hair. They would have watched with streaming eyes, and waited for the miracle that didn’t come. Watched until Savonarola’s turbulent soul departed for another place, and left behind a smouldering world ‘lit by fire’.
Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola by Fr Bartolomeo
The best thing I ate today;
Fiori di Zucchini
This strangely sculptural antipasto comes to the table on a huge white platter; pale golden puffs and whirls of tempura-like batter barely coat the fragile saffron flowers of the male zucchini. Also on offer are little succulent stems of fragrant sweet marjoram dipped and petrified in a whisper of crispness. The batter is there and not there, almost the memory of a crunch. This dish can only be made when zucchini are in season and only with the freshest flowers, as they wilt after a day. If you see this on the ‘specials’ menu, I would urge you to order it. Not every restaurant has the knack, but if you strike lucky you’ll never forget your first bite, the sweet delicate taste is as fleeting as the season.
Where to get it;
Ristorante Il Poderaccio, Moiano.
Willy, the young chef, has the knack.