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‘Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality’: A man of the cloth or charismatic cult leader?

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‘Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality’ by Ludwig von Langenmantel

As I strolled through the Regina Quick Center of the Arts, the first piece I noticed was the giant “Savonarola Preaching Against Prodigality” by Ludwig von Langenmantel, an oil canvas painting looming above the stairs by the gift shop.

I’ve always been interested in Renaissance, Gothic and Romantic art, the latter of which this piece of art was created. Perhaps I was so drawn to it because it reminded me of the works I saw when roaming through the Vatican in the summer of 2016.

The focal point of the piece is Girolamo Savonarola, who the piece is named after, pointing towards the sky as if he is God reaching out to Adam, preaching before a “bonfire of vanities.” His followers (and critics) flock around him to hear what he has to say about the impending doom and the fall of the church.

Now, before analyzing the piece, I had to give myself a little history lesson to truly understand what the painting depicted.

A man with humble beginnings, Savonarola abandoned his family to become a Dominican friar. As a friar, he moved to Florence, where he served as the master of novices in the convent of San Marco.

Savonarola was more austere than his brothers in the convent, whom he often conflicted with, making him move from city to city. When preaching in the 1480s he found evidence of an Apocalypse and called for repentance. In the summer of 1490, Savonarola returned to Florence began to attack powerful factions and leaders of the world, Italy and the city. It was the fear of others that led to Savonarola’s rise, both politically and spiritually, in the merchant city of Firenze.

His sermons of destruction came to Florence during a crucial time. Lorenzo de’Medici, the de facto leader of Florence, was dying. Savonarola blessed Lorenzo on his deathbed, but his blessing could not save the Medicis from being expelled. He prophesied a great flood and a ruler from the north who would try to reform the church. When Charles VIII of France invaded, Savonarola’s prophecies seemed to be proving true.

Lorenzo’s son, Piero, failed to defend Florence, and the Medicis had to leave. Like a charismatic cult leader, Savonarola was Lorenzo’s successor in Florence government and reformed both politics and religion in the city.

Whoever was opposed to creating Florence into his image, Savonarola made them his enemies, condemning them and calling them tiepidi, the “worse.” The pope and Savonarola’s friends ended up denouncing him as a man who bought his office and an atheist.

In the summer of 1497, five men were accused of trying to restore the Medicis in Florence. When they were brought to judgement, Savonarola gave them no real help. The sentence was passed and the men were executed, thus making Savonarola an enemy of the Medicis.

Savonarola burned books and destroyed art, horrifying the Vatican and his own followers. He deceived himself into believing he was a prophet, similar to Moses. This, in the end, led to his own downfall.

Argument raged over Savonarola’s authority, as the pope threatened to excommunicate Florence. The government acted and Savonarola and his main supporters were arrested. Savonarola could not withstand torture and he admitted to never having any visions. In 1498 he was frocked, hanged and burned. His ashes were thrown into the Arno river, but some of his followers collected the ashes, his vestments, hair shirt and pieces of the gallows he died on. Sainthood was not in Savonarola’s future, however. He was no Thomas More by any stretch of the imagination and the fact that he was up for sainthood boggles my mind. Imagine Saint Jim Jones. You can’t, right? Perhaps comparing Savonarola to Jones is a bit of a stretch, but his charismatic appearance and cult following are enough to suggest that he was not a pure man of the cloth, but in fact an ambitious man who found fertile ground in the fearful Florence republic.

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Jim Jones vs. Savonarola….uncanny.

Perhaps not so ironically, after his death, a cult was created under his name.

Langenmantel depicts Savonarola with as much darkness as the friar’s prophecies. Hooded like some type of dark lord, Savonarola’s eyes are rolled upwards, almost giving him the appearance of a man possessed. What’s even more eerie is the skull Savonarola seems to be holding close along with his dangling rosary. One of the first things I wondered when looking at the painting was whose skull it was. The eyes of the skull appear to be looking at Savonarola. Perhaps this is symbolic to the friar’s own death.

The women in the painting appear to be fearful, some from the nobility and others who look like the working class. The men, on the other hand, look skeptical. These depictions could just be a product of the times. Noble women did not necessarily work, so they were thought to have more time to focus on religious beliefs, while men focused more on politics. Noblemen at the time looked at each other with power in their eyes and similarly to Savonarola, they could fall just as quickly as they rose.

Reading about the history of Savonarola and his eventual downfall, I began noticing a lot of foreshadowing within the painting. As the painting was created centuries after the life and death of Savonarola, Langenmantel could easily symbolize his eventual execution.

To the left of him, most of the people appear to be at the will of Savonarola’s words, hanging on to every word. While those on the far right appear to be more skeptical of what he’s saying. If looking at the scene from left to right, it’s almost as if Langenmantel is predicting past, present and future. After all, it would be the critics of Savonarola who would pass his judgement.

Behind Savonarola, to his left, there appears to be someone in the back mimicking him. Could this be Langenmantel’s way of further foreshadowing the friar’s death? Just as Savonarola is pointing to the heavens, speaking of an Apocalyptic downfall, the onlooker in the back could be pointing to the friar’s downfall. Or, perhaps Langenmantel is telling the viewer that there are men like Savonarola everywhere; past, present and future.

One of the other things I found curious was the pile of riches at Savonarola’s feet. Throughout his life, Savonarola refused riches and all earthly pleasures. He prodded his followers to rid of material possessions and live for God. His bonfires of vanities pushed people to minimalism and living lives not defined by property. The way that they are piled at his feet, though, make it appear less holy, and more holier than thou. It’s as if Savonarola is an idol or some type of Firenze rockstar. The items seem to be at his disposal and the effect of their placement make it look like he’s standing above them, as if it were a mountain.

It is this pile of riches the part of the piece that I believe to be the most telling. Instead of getting rid of their possessions, Savonarola’s followers appear to be throwing them at his feet. It is on these riches that he rose and on those riches that he would fall. At the top of the pile appears to be a chalice of sorts knocked over, underneath it a material of red, almost making it look as if wine is being spilt. On the floor, red cloth spreads out, like a pool of blood. Blood of the past and future. The five men who were executed with no help from Savonarola was the blood of the past. The friar was not innocent and some could even argue that their blood was on his hands. As we know, Savonarola would face torture and death, hence, the blood of the future.

One of the women in the painting kneels before Savonarola, holding above her head a crown, as if presenting it to him. If Savonarola preaches about a “bonfire of vanities” why isn’t she tossing it into the pile? Instead, charismatic-cult-leader-esque man he is, is doted upon by his followers. It’s as if giving their livelihoods away to Savonarola will ensure their spot in heaven.

Being a bit of a Renaissance buff, when reading about Savonarola’s life, I found his ties with the Medicis somewhat ironic. He blessed Lorenzo, but helped in expelling the rest of the Medicis in Florence. The Medicis hated him for it, but like many, the Medicis were not exempt from believing in religious prophecies. Catherine de’Medici came to mind. Catherine ended up marrying King Henry II of France after becoming one of the last of the Medicis, an orphan.

Catherine became a fan of Nostradamus, famous for his prophecies. She supported him so much that she made him a Counselor and Physician for the royal household.

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Catherine de’Medici and Nostradamus

The Medicis hated Savonarola and spat on his name along with his prophecies, yet one of their most powerful and notable members heavily believed in a man known for prophecies.

I digress…

Overall, I found Langenmantel’s painting extremely interesting, as it struck me to do hours of research on the life and death of Savonarola, someone I previously knew nothing about. The painting presents the reality of men like Savonarola. They are small and weak, hiding behind their pile of riches and charisma. He was not the first of his kind, though, or the last. History repeats our whole damn lives, in some way or another. The past, present and future are all laid out in the cloth, we just have to look for it.

A soapbox moment

I think a general statement that we can all agree to is that people use social media to benefit no one other than themselves, only presenting what they want others to see. There is a sort of narcissism that comes with using social media. We want to show the world what is going on in our lives that is working well for us, not necessarily the down falls. This ends up with us feeling a sense of gratification when we get social approval via likes and comments on what we post.

There is no selfless good deed, especially in the digital realm. Any money you donate via Facebook or crowdfunding website makes you feel good about yourself. Even if you make your name anonymous for the donation, you still end up feeling good about what you did.

Considering we can all recognize and realize that we appear to be these awesome people with great lives, recently people are calling others out for not being “real” enough. YouTube and Instagram come to mind when I think of this.

Famous YouTuber Shane Dawson used to do comedic skits and random videos on fast food, life hacks and conspiracy theories. In 2018, Dawson became one of the fastest growing YouTubers due to his different docuseries and projects which went into the lives of other famous YouTubers to show his audience the “real” them. The people that were featured in his series in 2018 were YouTubers who were hated or had recent drama/controversy. He pushed them to show their “true” selves to the world and that would make audiences like them more.

Though Shane Dawson’s docuseries are fun and interesting to watch, are they really successful? Many of the YouTubers who are featured on Shane’s channel grow exponentially as they gain millions of subscribers overnight due to the limelight. So although Shane is searching for the “truth” and “realness” behind these YouTubers, he is only helping them gain popularity and stardom, even if it’s unintentional.

The video below is a part of one of Shane Dawson’s docuseries as he goes to the house of Bunny Meyer, known on YouTube as grav3yardgirl. Meyer’s channel was considered ‘dying’ as her viewership went down. Dawson tries to help her remedy that by showing her “real” life.

People on Instagram get called out for using FaceTune to slightly alter how they appear in photos, for “flexing” (showing off one’s wealth) and being too “picture perfect.”

So, on both platforms, people are being called out for not being “real” enough.

But then there are social media stars like Trisha Paytas. She posted a video of her crying on her kitchen floor over her boyfriend’s infidelity and in the comments, people are calling her a nutcase and insinuating her feelings aren’t valid. I personally believe Trisha Paytas’s video was an actual representation of how she felt. For someone who is used to taking her camera out and documenting her life, I didn’t question the validity of the emotions she “portrayed” in her video.

The video has since been deleted from Trisha’s channel, but below is a re-upload..

So, why did people say her feelings weren’t valid? Why did people claim she was being over dramatic? Perhaps not many people would post a video of themselves having an emotional breakdown on their kitchen floor, but I am sure many people would feel the same way as Trisha if they were in her situation. Were they calling her over dramatic because of her large following? Possibly.

The video of her crying on the kitchen floor became a meme and is now a part of Trisha’s “brand.” Though people called her over dramatic and left her other nasty comments, Trisha rose in popularity due to her mental break and eventually was a part of the UK’s version of Big Brother. Within a year, she became international.

So, one could argue that being real on social media allows you to rise in popularity, but is this really being “real” if you’re gaining followers? Or does the popularity negate your realness? Food for thought.

Many people post on sites like Instagram and YouTube to get some sense of gratification. In this day of age, people can make millions (billions, for a few) simply by making a post. Other people watching them become richer and richer fuels behavior to please other.

Sites like Twitter are not exempt from narcissism. In Jim Brown’s article, “Unhealthy Infrastructures,” he takes a look at quote tweeting. This is what I like to call, “Drawing upon your audience to make your arguments for you.” People who are debating something may use quote tweeting to draw their “opponents” responses to their audience. In this way, Twitter has basically become a room where everyone is screaming at each other.

People who quote tweets to their audience is like a bounty hunter letting their dogs take chase. Snarky comments to one another become public and those who quote tweets are basically saying to their audience, “Look at how funny I am” or “I can make sick burns.” Thus, it’s all about self-gratification.

Here is an example of a very intellectual argument made via quote tweeting:

Image result for quote tweet tana mongeau bryce hall

Now, I’m not disregarding the upsides of quote tweeting, which include richer conversation, context, clarity, etc. People use it to make funny jokes, political statements and voice their disgust on a subject.

Lives and careers have been destroyed by quote tweets in one fellow swoop (Laura Lee and Kezia, for example).

Not only can social media destroy careers, but it allows others to receive some type of gratification by participating in their fall, i.e. “dogpiling.”

Though social media allows us to have conversations with people that we might not have an opportunity to meet in real life, some of these platforms hinder the opportunity as we are not talking to these people face-to-face. We do not know what some people are going through or even look like, thus they have a type of omnipresent veil over them. It’s easier to dehumanize someone when you’ve never seen them before. This makes it easy for people to name-call, bully, threaten and dogpile. An environment that is dehumanizing can lead to a toxic environment where conversation seems impossible.

Now let me step down from my soapbox and stop talking about how social media is the root of evil like your grandma, but I beg you to take a step back before the next time you post something on your social media. Ask yourself, “Why am I posting this? What’s the point?”

Digital Reflection

Ever since I was a kid I have always loved to write. I’ve written creatively for as long as I can remember. When I got into high school, I began writing for my school newspaper as I believed that I probably could not get a job in writing unless it was journalism. I ended up becoming the editor for my school’s paper and then I worked part-time as a journalist for my local paper.

I applied to Bonaventure as a journalism major and then after the first semester I switched to strategic communication. It was at Bonaventure that I realized my true passion, which surprisingly, wasn’t just writing. I loved telling stories creatively, not only through writing, but through design as well.

At Bonaventure I began working as a writer for the radio station’s magazine, The Buzzworthy. Today, I’m the director of the Buzzworthy. Being able to write and design The Buzzworthy myself made me realize that creating a product for others to enjoy and understand was what I loved to do. In this way, writing has really helped contribute to my identity as it’s one of my greatest passions.

Today I do most of my writing digitally, while when I was in elementary and middle school, I always wrote my creative pieces on paper before typing it up on a Word document. One of the biggest differences I noticed between writing digitally and writing traditionally was how I felt while writing.

When writing traditionally, I wrote believing and knowing that the piece was only a first draft and I would go back and revise it later before anyone read it. While writing, I felt more connected to the piece as I put pen (or pencil) to paper. Having something physical to hold can make one feel more connected to whatever it is they’re holding. I find this to be especially true with writing and reading.

On the other hand, I find when writing digitally, I become more distracted by other applications on my computer or phone. Also, while writing I find that I’m thinking more about others reading my work. When writing digitally I write as if what I’m writing will be the final copy. I’m more of a perfectionist with my work when writing digitally and this can be a block for the creative mind.

Throughout my college career I have been producing work digitally not only for personal projects, but also for clubs and businesses. The past two summers I have marketed Oswego Harborfest, one of the largest free music festivals in the state. I’ve designed and created programs and posters for the festival, as well as publish to its social media accounts and website. In this way, creating content digitally is my job. The same goes for the Buzzworthy, which I design and write for. The end product of my labor is then consumed by hundreds of people as it is printed and published online.

By producing these works, not only do I benefit from it (as it’s added to my portfolio), but the people who “consume” it and the organizations that I create for benefit as well. My contributions to Oswego Harborfest and the Buzzworthy give the two businesses advertising, in a way. The work that is printed and published digitally and physically bring awareness to the two brands. Those who view and consume my work also benefit in that their minds become stimulated and they can gain information from what myself and others have written.

When creating digital content, I have used various social media platforms including Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook. I have also used Microsoft Word and Publisher, Adobe Creative Cloud, Canva, WordPress and more. I have used pretty much all of these digital resources for personal, professional and creative purposes.

Although it seems many people want to jump on the “technology is evil” bandwagon, I personally find the writing platforms I use to enhance my life. Using various tools, I am able to interact with others in ways that I could not if social media and the online didn’t exist. Tumblr and Instagram are probably my two favorite social media platforms in that I can write at length if I wanted to and I am personally inspired by other content creators. Both Tumblr and Instagram have so many different tags that I can find content that I’m interested in easily. In many ways, I use social media as a creative stimulant.

In many ways I am a consumer of digital culture. Heck, pretty much anyone who opens a screen is a consumer of digital culture. I believe I consume the most digitally is when I’m on social media, including YouTube. Those who benefit from my consumption are content creators who receive AdSense and paid partnerships.  Whenever I click on a link that they share or simply scroll past one of their posts, they make money.

So far, digital technologies have played a huge part in my academic discipline and future profession. As I work to become a digital marketer and strategist, I have to use digital technologies every day.

A Clash of Kings review and differences in the show

***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***

This past year I’ve been getting into Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire book series.  In the summer I finished the first book, and now I have finished the second book, A Clash of Kings, which is quite reminiscent of the Cousins War/the War of the Roses in medieval England.  As soon as I read the first book, I was reminded of this time in history and little did I know at the time, that the author, George R.R. Martin, was actually inspired by the war.

I knew and read about the War of the Roses years before I began reading GoT, as I’m a history buff when it comes to medieval England (fun fact: I worked as a pub wench at a Renaissance Festival. I know, classy).  This particular point in history I found quite interesting due to how scheming and lust for power ended up making cousins fight against one another in deadly battles and led terrible war crimes, including the slaughter of young children (read up on the princes in the tower; it’s quite an interesting story!). I could talk for ages about the War of the Roses and the Tudor dynasty, but I won’t bore you all with my odd obsession.  Although the first book, Game of Thrones, resembled the War of the Roses, I believe A Clash of Kings resembled the War even more so.  

Brother fights against brother in the book and everyone from the north to the south, and east to the west, believe they have a stake to the Iron Throne.  Deception and ambition are what drive the story, as Westeros soon begins to be divided again.  I believe I loved this book more so than the first as we got to see the inner-workings behind each King and how they went forward trying to make their claim.  

I particularly was interested in the character Tyrion, and how he went on keeping King’s Landing under Lannister control despite all odds.  Tyrion was not wanted by his sister, Cersei, or by his nephew, King Joffrey, but his father, who Tyrion thought despised him, made it possible for Tyrion to become King’s Hand.  Tyrion used his knowledge and mindful prowess to stop King’s Landing from falling and kept his head on his shoulders the entire time.  Every chapter in the perspective of Tyrion was very well written and kept me interested.  I am not saying all of the other chapters were trash, but I suppose they just didn’t interest me as much.  

Surprisingly, there weren’t as many chapters in the perspective of Daenerys, who takes up a lot of screen time in the show.  She is a much beloved character, and rightfully so, but I believe her character did not grow as much in this book, but character development was focused on the other characters (Tyrion, Theon, Arya, Bran and Jon in particular). For the majority of the book, Daenerys is just trying to get men and ships to bring her to Westeros.  Ironically, she can be seen as a “Beggar Queen” in this book, much like her brother Viserys, was called the “Beggar King”, as she’s just asking for men and ships from others who have more power than her.  I believe her dragons could just be seen as tools in this book to make Daenerys appear more powerful.

I enjoyed seeing new characters added to the chapter perspective list in this book, including the characters of Davos and Theon Greyjoy.  Davos was just used as a tool to show the readers a “behind the scenes” look of what Stannis Baratheon is doing to make his claim for the Iron Throne, including his use of the Red Priestess to get what he wants.  The character of Theon Greyjoy was annoying as usual, but it was interesting to see why Theon does the things he does as well as where he came from and family background.  

You may be curious to know if I have watched the show or not, and my answer? Yes and no.  I am not caught up to the most recent episode and I don’t plan to be for quite some time.  On the GoT wikia website, they show which chapters are in each episode, and I’ve been reading the chapters before watching each episode.  It takes time, but for me it’s worth it because I’m able to enjoy the episode a bit more and am able to see the differences between the books and the show.  

There are a lot of chronological differences between the book and the show, but that’s understandable.  There are some differences between the scenes and how they play out, but everything ends the same way.  One difference that kind of annoyed me is the fact that Theon killed Ser Rodrik in the show, right in front of Bran and his brother, through a botched execution.  In the books, Ser Rodrik simply died in battle, and by that time, Bran and his brother had hidden themselves in the crypts.  Although Theon is definitely an annoying asshole of a character, I don’t believe him killing off Ser Rodrik was necessary, as it only made him look more annoying. In the books, there is more depth to Theon, and they don’t portray that depth very well in the show.

Also, the character of Cersei is more intricate in the books, but simply portrayed as a cold hearted bitch in the TV show.  I agree that she is a cold hearted bitch, but I believe her intentions are more clearly portrayed in the books than on the show.  Plus, there are a few scenes in the book where Cersei is shown as…nice? I know, hard to believe, but it’s true! Also in the book, the relationship between Cersei and Tyrion is seen a bit more.  It shows that since they are family, they respect one another, but quarrel nonstop because of their obvious differences and disagreements.  There were some parts in the book where Cersei and Tyrion interact with one another, which I would have loved to see on the screen, but were totally cut out from the show.  One such scene is where Cersei picks up Tyrion and swings him around the room in excitement, but due to how the writers of the show want to portray Cersei, that scene was cut out.  

All in all, I love the book and the show and I plan on continuing reading the series.  If you have not gotten into the whole GoT craze, I definitely recommend the books as they are literary works of art.  

Pumpkin Picking

This past weekend during midterm break, I invited a couple of my friends to go back to my hometown with me. Whilst we were there we drove to a local farm to get pumpkins. Unfortunately, they were closed. So, we went to go picking apple at Fruit Valley to get my mom some macs. Little did I realize, they had pumpkins there as well! I did not get any photos of us picking apples, but I got tons of us with the pumpkins. It had been raining all day and it was becoming a bit late in the afternoon, so I called ahead to make sure the places I had in mind were open. Two of the three were closed for picking, so Fruit Valley was our saving grace! I’ve gone to Fruit Valley several times in the past with my family, and I have always loved it there.

When we arrived it was pretty obvious that Fruit Valley was better known for their apple orchard than their pumpkins. Although they had an amazing assortment of Halloween carving pumpkins, they did not have a good number of smaller pumpkins, which I had in mind to decorate my dorm room. I did manage to find some pumpkins that I liked, though, as I ended up getting two large Halloween pumpkins for my family to put in front of our door, and three small baby pumpkins to scatter around my dorm room, which were actually the last three! And of course, we got a full bag of mac apples.

Whether you want to pick your own pumpkins, apples, or you just simply want to stroll through the fields on an autumn day, I would definitely recommend a pick-your-own farm!

Bookshelf Sunday: Stuff Parisians Like

One thing I do every night before I lay my head down to sleep is read.  I love reading.  I’m a bookworm.  Whether it be nonfiction or fiction, mystery or humor, whatever genre, I do not care.  Reading a book before I sleep has become an essential part of my daily routine and I believe it is something which helps me wind down and maintain my sanity.  Whenever I feel over my head, I pick up a book, read, and work through it.  So, I figure why not write about them.

Just today, I finished a fun gem of a book called Stuff Parisians Like by Olivier Magny.  I ordered this book at the beginning of the school year from Barnes & Noble, along with another book about Paris (which I will probably show you at some point) in the same order.  I don’t know why, but I have some sort of affinity for Paris, France in general, really.  I’ve never traveled to France before, but I hope to someday.  Perhaps I’ll travel there for my honeymoon if some gent decides to put a ring on it.

SPL was not something I expected to be humorous.  I just thought it would be an insightful guide to things Parisians like, and perhaps make me not look like a tourist if I ever decide to visit.  Little did I know that Magny created a work of humor and ball-busting.  Whether or not the way he describes Parisians is truthful, I’ll have to determine for myself.  The work was satirical yet intelligent, as he pointed out the things Parisians like, but also made fun of them for it.  He painted the Parisian as snobby and ignorant, but ones with refined taste and contemplative.  Who knew someone could be ignorant and deep thinking at the same time? Not me!

Magny characterized an entire population with one book, which says it all.  Not even halfway through the book I began to wonder whether I should take his words seriously at all, but everything seemed so believable! I applaud him for making his experience with the Parisian enjoyable to read, and being cheeky enough to plug his own Parisian wine tasting bar, O Chateau, at the end and in the middle of his book.

The book itself provided me with an interest in learning French, as well, since a lot of the book I had to type into Google translator to make sense of.  Also, because I intend on going to Paris one day, I made several notes in the book for future reference.  The book, aside from the satirical ball busting, made me want to incorporate some Parisian things into my daily life. For example, moderation and replacing butter with olive oil.  Some more humorous things Parisians like that I have incorporated has been calling people fascist when I don’t agree with them (I’m not really that narrow-minded, I swear), and reading the books in someone’s home I’ve just been invited to so I can learn more about them.  Honestly, though, Magny has really made me convinced that Parisians are a peculiar breed.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who is as interested in Paris and France like I am.  

 

P.S. It was also noted that Parisians allegedly like New York…lucky me!