Bonfire of the Vanities (Template:Lang-it) refers to the burning of objects that are deemed to be occasions of sin. The most infamous one took place on 7 February 1497, when supporters of the Dominican priest Girolamo Savonarola collected and publicly burned thousands of objects like cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy, on the Mardi Gras festival. Such bonfires were not invented by Savonarola, however. They were a common accompaniment to the outdoor sermons of San Bernardino da Siena in the first half of the century.
The focus of this destruction was nominally on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, paintings, playing cards, and even musical instruments. Other targets included books that were deemed to be "immoral," such as works by Boccaccio, and manuscripts of secular songs, as well as artworks, including paintings and sculpture.
Although it is widely reported that the Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli burned several of his paintings based on classical mythology in the great Florentine bonfire of 1497, the historical record on this is not clear. The art historian Giorgio Vasari said that Botticelli was a partisan of Savonarola: "he was so ardent a partisan that he was thereby induced to desert his painting, and, having no income to live on, fell into very great distress." Writing several centuries later, Orestes Brownson, an apologist for Savonarola, mentions artwork only by Fra Bartolomeo, Lorenzo di Credi, and "many other painters," along with "several antique statues."
The Bonfire Of The Vanities in fiction
The event has been represented or mentioned in varying degrees of detail in a number of works of historical fiction, including George Eliot's Romola (1863), E.R. Eddison's A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941), Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy (1961), Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's The Palace (1978), Timothy Findley's Pilgrim (1999), Sarah Dunant's The Birth of Venus (2003) and Ian Caldwell's and Dustin Thomason's Rule of Four (2004).
It is also depicted in the PBS series, Empires: The Medici, Godfathers of the Renaissance (2003) at the end of the second episode.
Mentioned in the video game Assassin's Creed II, the 1497 event is a downloadable content portion of the game. In the Assassin's Creed II version, Savonarola had stolen an "Apple of Eden" from Ezio Auditore da Firenze at the end of the Battle of Forli DLC, and used it to stir people into a frenzy of support for him.
This event has been also depicted in Jodorowsky & Manara's Borgia comics.
The tenth episode of Season 2 of the CW's Gossip Girl is called "Bonfire of the Vanity".
"Bonfire of the Vanities" in non-fiction
Classicist historians John Heath, Bruce Snail Thornton, and Victor Davis Hanson wrote Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age (2001), using the name of the bonfire as a metaphor for declining interest in classic works.
- Orestes Brownson, "Savonarola: his Contest with Paganism," Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1851; available at Orestes Brownson society