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Florence's Trial by Fire
One of the most striking figures of Renaissance Florence was Girolamo Savonarola, a Dominican friar who, for a moment, captured the conscience of the city. In 1491 he became prior of the convent of San Marco, where he adopted a life of austerity and delivered sermons condemning Florence's excesses and the immorality of his fellow clergy. Following the death of Lorenzo de' Medici, Savonarola was instrumental in the formation of the Republic of Florence, ruled by a representative council with Christ enthroned as monarch. In one of his most memorable acts, he urged Florentines to toss worldly possessions—from frilly dresses to Botticelli paintings—onto a "bonfire of the vanities" in Piazza della Signoria. Savonarola's antagonism toward church hierarchy led to his undoing: he was excommunicated in 1497, and the following year was hanged and burned on charges of heresy. Today, at the Museo di San Marco, you can visit Savonarola's cell and see his arresting portrait.
San Lorenzo. Brunelleschi designed this great basilica in the 15th century but never lived to see it finished. Note the dark marble lines on the floor, whose geometry underscores the "new" use of perspective. The Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy), at the end of the left transept, is the Renaissance at its purest; the roundels are by Donatello. Piazza San Lorenzo
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