Book Review: “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris

57165112When we think about men who challenged the Church and are known as Reformers, we tend to think of Martin Luther, Jan Hus, and John Calvin. However, a man fought against corruption in his beloved Florence who should be included in the list of great reformers. He was a Dominican monk who was not afraid to preach against sin and took aim at the most powerful men in all of Italy, including Pope Alexander VII. His sermons were so scandalous that they would lead to his demise upon a pyre in the middle of Florence. His name was Girolamo Savonarola, and his story is told in Samantha Morris’s latest biography, “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola.”

I want to thank Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley for sending me a copy of this biography. I read Samantha Morris’s previous joint biography of Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I heard that she was writing a new biography about a famous figure in Italian history, I was intrigued.

Girolamo Savonarola was a scholar, like his father and grandfather before him, destined to be a doctor like his grandfather. His plan for his life took a drastic turn when the girl he was fell for rejected his advances, so he decided to join the Dominican order as a friar. Talk about not taking a break-up well. Savonarola studied the Humanist teachings and incorporated them into the way he understood his faith. Of course, as a friar, he couldn’t keep his opinions to himself, so he began preaching against corruption and the vices that he saw during his travel.

Savonarola’s preaching was appealing to the people of Florence, yet it did not sit well with the leader of Florence, Lorenzo de ’Medici. Lorenzo tried to silence the troublesome friar, but his son Piero de Medici took on the challenge when he passed away. Piero was nothing like his father and was overthrown as ruler of Florence by Savonarola. Of course, Savonarola was not satisfied with reforming Florence, and he decided to take on the Catholic Church itself and attack another powerful family.

Charles VII of France wanted to conquer Italy, which to the Dominican friar was a good idea, so Savonarola helped the king. This incident drew the ire of Rodrigo Borgia, also known as Pope Alexander VI, and Ludovico “Il Moro” Sforza of Milan, who just wanted the friar to shut up. Even with numerous ex-communications, Savonarola kept preaching against corruption and vices, leading to the Bonfires of the Vanities in 1497. He took artwork and writings deemed inappropriate and burned them in a humongous bonfire. A year later, on May 22, 1498, Girolamo Savonarola lost his life because of his heretic teachings.

This book has so many scandals and dynamic characters that you will forget you are reading a biography. Morris has done it yet again, and this was a brilliantly engaging and extremely well-researched biography. The way she can capture the thrilling world of 15th and 16th century Italy is astounding, and I hope she will write more about Italian history in the future. If you want a fun biography about a man who fought to reform the Catholic Church, I highly recommend you read “The Pope’s Greatest Adversary: Girolamo Savonarola” by Samantha Morris.

Book Review: “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia

57165143A man ahead of his time who never finished the tasks that he was given as his mind was constantly racing, thinking of new ideas. This is what we consider a genius or a Renaissance Man today, but during Leonardo da Vinci’s time, it was just considered odd. Leonardo da Vinci was an enigma. He could make the impossible possible. His art seemed to leap off the canvas with its realism. However, there are still so many mysteries surrounding his life and his works. What made this one artist/inventor so fascinating for centuries? In her book, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” Rose Sgueglia opens the curtain to reveal Leonardo da Vinci’s truth and inner circle.

I would like to thank Net Galley and Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. I am one of those people who is familiar with da Vinci’s works, but not so much with his actual life and what made him tick. I have always wanted to read biographies about the great artists of the Renaissance, but I didn’t know where to start. This was the perfect book to start my journey into art history.

To understand da Vinci’s lifestyle later in life, we have to understand his origins. His mother was an absent figure in his life as Leonardo was her illegitimate son, but his father seemed to have taken care of him. Leonardo was trained under Verrocchio where he would learn the skills that would be vital for his art career, however, it was his insatiable appetite for exploring new subjects that would make him a polymath to many.

Sgueglia dives into the intricacies of da Vinci’s life, including his love life which has been debated for centuries. As an illegitimate son, he was not tied down to one location so he frequently traveled and would be employed by some of the greatest families in Italy, including the Borgias, the Medicis, and Ludovico Sforza. Along the way, he would create his own following of artists that were loyal to him until the bitter end. Da Vinci would also encounter fellow masters Donatello and Michelangelo as he competed for commissions.

I think Sgueglia does a decent job introducing the Leonardo da Vinci that she has gotten to know through her research. She also included interviews between her and a researcher of the Mona Lisa as well as the director of a movie about Leonardo da Vinci within this book, which I found fascinating. I think it is these interviews and including the transcripts as part of the book that sets it apart from other biographies about Leonardo da Vinci.

There were a few things about this book that I found a bit off or lacking. My big concern was the lack of illustrations of his lesser-known pieces of art and the artwork of other artists that Sgueglia references. If this is a biography about a well-known artist and inventor, then let’s celebrate the masterpieces and the inventions. I had to find the obscure artworks online while I was reading to act as a companion to get the full impact of what she was writing about. I also think it was a tad repetitive and I would have personally liked to have seen more books in the bibliography for research purposes.

Overall, I found this book was an adequate biography about Leonardo da Vinci. It is easy to read with intriguing facts that will captivate those who are new to da Vinci’s story. There is something intriguing about looking at the man behind these masterpieces and I think Sgueglia does an excellent job of showing a unique side of this artist’s life. If you want a great book that will introduce you to this polymath’s life and times, I recommend you read, “The Real Leonardo da Vinci” by Rose Sgueglia.