Friday, May 13, 2011

Vanity Burning

Five hundred and fourteen years ago today, on May 13th 1497, Rodrigo Borgia (having become Pope Alexander VI just five years earlier) finally got around to exomunicating Girolamo Savonarola. Giro would be executed just a year and ten days later; on May 23rd 1498.

After Giro was arrested, on April 8th 1498, he was brutally tortured. Legend has it that every scrap of flesh on his body except for his right arm was mutilated in the systematic mission of the Pope’s designates to provide maximum pain for Giro. Shortly before a month had passed Giro used the undamaged right arm to sign a confession and to pen the famous “Infelix ego”:

“Infelix ego, omnium auxilio destitutus, qui cœlum terramque offendi: Quo ibo? Quo me vertam? Ad quem confugiam? Quis mei miserebitur? Ad cœlum levare oculos non audeo. Quia ei graviter peccavi. In terra refugium non invenio. Quia ei scandalum fui.
Quid igitur faciam? Desperabo? Absit. Misericors est Deus, pius est salvator meus. Solus igitur Deus refugium meum: Ipse non despiciet opus suum, non repellet imaginem suam.
Ad te igitur, piissime Deus, tristis ac mœrens venio: Quoniam tu solus spes mea, tu solus refugium meum. Quid autem dicam tibi? Cum oculos levare non audeo, verba doloris effundam, misericordiam tuam implorabo, et dicam: Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.” -- Girolamo Savonarola

With the Infelix Ego Giro pretty much discounts his confession. He also is a bit unhappy with himself for penning the confession (“Alas wretch that I am, destitute of all help, who have offended heaven and earth--where shall I go?” – English translation of the beginning of Infelix Ego). The Infelix Ego would remain Giro’s most endearing work. It would be adopted for use in several other artworks. It was even put to music a couple of times.

It is ironic that Giro’s last complete work would find its way into art.

Before his death Giro would be allowed to re-visit the site of his most famous work. Giro, and a couple of his comrades, were chained to a cross in the Piazza della Signoria, stripped, and then burned. A little less than a year and a half earlier, on February 7th 1497, Giro had erected his “bonfire of the Vanities” on the same spot.

Giro had whipped up a following by convincing people that, because syphilis had become so widespread, the end of the world was near. Giro had items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, immoral sculptures, gaming tables, chess pieces, lutes and other musical instruments, fine dresses, women’s hats, and the works of immoral and ancient poets piled in the center of the Piazza della Signoria. Many great works of art were lost forever to the purifying influence of Giro’s torch.

1 comment:

adult onset atheist said...

Blogger ate about a quarter of this post. I'm kinda waiting to see if they will be restoring it along with the other restorations they have hinted at following their cloud meltdown this last week.