Bonfire of the Vanities: Savonarola’s Ominous Rise To Power with guest speaker Professor Kenneth Bartlett


How did a fiery, apocalyptic preacher take control of 1490s Florence, a Renaissance city of culture, art and humanist values? How many priceless works of art were destroyed? Why did so many fall prey to his fanatical teachings? 

This illustrated lecture will explore how a fiery, apocalyptic Dominican preacher from Ferrara took control of Florence, the city of culture, art and humanist values just after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1492), and how a strict moral code, fanatical youth brigades and theocracy attempted to transform the New Athens into the New Jerusalem.

Professor Bartlett will reveal how political factions used religious messages and fervour to further their own objectives and how the image of Florence as a “pagan” republic was altogether incorrect. The high culture of ancient scholarship and virtue, known as humanism, actually influenced a small proportion of the elite citizens; the vast majority of the population remained credulous Christians, devoted to popular preachers and apocalyptic traditions. Savonarola harnessed these forces, filling the power vacuum that emerged after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. Moreover, the Dominican’s privileging of the socially disadvantaged groups in society – the poor, women and even children – provided a degree of leverage in political and economic power than disoriented all of the traditional factions striving for power in a turbulent time.

Kenneth Bartlett is the Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Professor Bartlett was the Founding Director of the University of Toronto Art Centre, was the Director of Faculty Programs in Arts and Science for 13 years, and in 2002 he was named the first Director of the Office of Teaching Advancement for the University of Toronto, a position he enjoyed until 2009. He is the author of: A Short History of the Italian Renaissance (University of Toronto Press, 2013. Designated an Outstanding Academic Title for 2014 by Choice, the journal of the American Library Association); The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance; The English in Italy: A Study in Culture and Politics, (1991) and is the co-editor or translator of such Italian Renaissance texts as Della Casa’s Galateo, Pope Pius II’s Story of the Two Lovers, and Ruzzante’s Moscheta. In 2005 he produced a 36 video series with 3 vol. companion text on The Italian Renaissance. A second series, The Italians Before Italy: Conflict and Cooperation in the Mediterranean, appeared in 2007, and a 48 episode series on The Development of European Civilization was released in 2010. The Great Tours: Discovering Medieval Europe appeared in December 2013; and he is currently preparing a video series: The Great Tours and Smithsonian Journeys: Essential Italy, Rome, Florence and Venice. More information


Series: $40

Drop-in: $15