- Savonarola's Women: Visions and Reform in Renaissance Italy
Although Girolamo Savonarola is remembered for the profound impact he had on Florentine society and politics at the end of the fifteenth century, scholars have generally tended to forget that it was women who first flocked to hear his sermons and that it was women who, after his sudden demise, kept his teachings and his memory alive in the face of continued ecclesiastical and political pressure to suppress the movement. Herzig's volume is thus a welcomed addition to the growing body of scholarly work on the Dominican friar. While she is not the first scholar to focus on women in the Savonarolan movement —over the last fifteen years Lorenzo Polizzotto, Adriana Valerio, Gabriella Zarri, and I have pointed out the importance of women in receiving and disseminating Savonarola's reforming message —she is the first not only to devote an entire monograph to the topic, but also to move our attention away from Florence in order to refocus it on transapennine Italy. As she does, she brings to light a number of Savonarolan circles that developed north of the Apennines, she points out how they differed from their Tuscan counterparts, and she reintegrates a number of lesser known figures into the larger Savonarolan picture. Her study is a pleasure to read and immensely enlightening for anyone working on Savonarola, Savonarolism, Italian reform movements, or women in the sixteenth century.
The volume opens with an overview of Savonarola's reform movement in Florence in the 1490s and the city's repressive control of women mystics both [End Page 876] before and after 1498. Chapter 2 highlights the Umbrian mystic Colomba Guadagnoli, who served her contemporaries as a role model for subsequent aspiring holy women from Savonarolan circles in Italy. Chapter 3 introduces Guadagnoli's best-known emulator, the visionary Lucia Brocadelli (1476–1544, beatified 1710), who enjoyed strong support from Duke Ercole I of Ferrara, an ardent supporter of Savonarola, and Stefana Quinzani (1457–1530), an adherent to Savonarola's reformist ideas who did not hesitate to voice prophetic rebukes against contemporary rulers and people. Brocadelli's more subversive activities during her early years in Ferrara are the focus of chapter 4, where we read about her visions of the deceased Savonarola, her determination to have her community sisters live according to strict standards of simplicity and poverty, and her insistence that her fellow sisters refer to Savonarola as Saint Savonarola. Chapter 5 outlines how, in the wake of Ercole I's death, Brocadelli's Savonarolism led to severe difficulties for her as she was outmanoeuvered and set aside by his son, Duke Alfonso I, and the Dominican Congregation in Lombardy. In the sixth and last chapter Herzig focuses on a number of holy women who kept the friar's message alive in their own life and work throughout the 1520s–40s. The chapter then ends with a brief look at Savonarolan women after the Council of Trent. The key figure in this section is the Florentine mystic Caterina de' Ricci, the only female Savonarolan ever to be canonized. Caterina's elevation to the altars was a great triumph in the eyes of the Savonarolans, but it was also detrimental for women in the movement: by focusing so completely on Caterina as heir to the Savonarolan tradition, the movement obscured the vital contributions made by a constellation of other women and reduced them to this one single example.
Herzig's study serves as a remedy for this post-Tridentine simplification. It points out the number and variety of holy women that were part, somehow, of the Savonarolan movement and outlines their role not only in preserving and disseminating Savonarola's teachings, but in authenticating the belief that he was now a saint in heaven. She also details how, in an effort to protect women from charges of heresy and in order to prepare the way for an eventual canonization of the friar, leading male Savonarolans...