Playful Pictures

Ciao tutti!

SO Wednesday evening Professor Chriscinda Henry hosted a fab talk on Carnival culture in Florence under the rule of Lorenzo Medici. The Medici endorsed this TOTAL abandonment of moral and social order to distract the Florentine people from their tyrannical rule and extortionate taxes!

Unlike the lighthearted, jovial carnivals of Viareggio and Venezia today, medieval carnivals were a combination of “diabolical and scandalous pleasures” from rampant egg and stone throwing to the abuse and mockery of Jews and prostitutes. Personally I, and indeed most the audience, was rendered shocked and somewhat appalled by the drunkenness and Godlessness of these times!!

The only recognisable perk for women during carnival season was the gift of traditional biscuits whilst being serenaded!

But, there were people at the time who DID speak up against the violence and barbarity. The Florentine friar Savonarola was famously executed for his active criticism of the festival season, in particular for orchestrating the Bonfire of the Vanities. This act entailed the public burning of objects deemed capable to tempt one into sin by Savonarola’s followers.

As Professor Henry explained, this work depicts Bernardino of Siena- the supposed founder of the Bonfire of the Vanities- organising the burning of such frivolities.

The estimated 240 ft fire consisted of different corrupt objects including mirrors, dice and cards (for their association with gambling), carnival masks, taboo books, fine silks and even musical instruments. But perhaps the biggest and saddest loss was to artwork. Hundreds of paintings and sculptures depicting carnival scenes or indecent nude figures were lost in the fire by major contemporary artists such as Sandro Botticelli.

Beautiful works similar to Botticelli’s Venus are imagined to have been burned in these fires.

This post’s idiom is a great phrase you can try out to criticise Savonarola’s hasty burning of history-ironically with the byproduct of making history- that led to his brutal execution.

La gatta frettolosa ha fatto i gattini ciechi. Translation: the hasty cat had blind kittens. Essentially the equivalent of haste makes waste, suggesting that rash actions and decisions often have bad consequences.

Well, I hope you’ve been persuaded to not torture animals like the Medici or burn books like Savonarola in the upcoming Carnival season!


Mills X

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