Death in Florence
Italy in the late fifteenth century comprised a number of city-states engaged in often vicious competition for trade and resources. Alliances between them were made and broken and remade with astonishing frequency.
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“. . .shows how those fifteenth century events have an uncanny resonance to our own times . . ..”
A number of major players dominated the scene, among them the Medici family of Florence. Rising from humble beginnings they became international bankers on a huge scale and virtual rulers of their city. Politically savvy, their ambitions were directed at gaining greater prestige by buying power in the Roman Catholic church and by marriage into the noble and royal houses of Europe. The greatest of the Medici family was Lorenzo, called the Magnificent for his intelligence, diplomatic finesse, and ability to hold the balance of power in Italy.
Lorenzo adroitly shaped public opinion through sponsoring festivals and patronage of the arts. Many of the great names of the Renaissance began their careers in Florence, earning the city the title of Cradle of the Renaissance. Yet Medici dominance of the city engendered jealousy and anger. Although Florence was theoretically a republic, the family held sway through bribery, threats and corruption. Nothing seemed likely to change – until Father Savonarola, a humble Dominican monk with a gift for prophecy and a burning ambition, entered the city and set everything on end. His preaching led to a collision between an increasingly secular society and the religion-dominated medieval world that was already passing into history.
In Death in Florence, Paul Strathern illuminates the extraordinary sequence of events that took place in the city-state during the late fifteenth century. Using a broad and deep knowledge of his subject, Strathern doesn’t allow his research to slow the pace of the narrative. He guides the reader through the complexities of the shifting alliances and betrayals in Florence with a sure touch that provides an eminently readable account–nor does he neglect the wider picture of Italian politics of the time, particularly with regard to the actions of various popes and the looming menace of France. In doing so Strathern shows how those fifteenth century events have an uncanny resonance to our own times, and how our modern world began with the machinations of Medici and Father Savonarola.
Reviewer: Cindy A. Matthews