Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Predica del arte del ben morire (Sermon on the Art of Dying Well): Title page (signature a1)
    Author: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)
    [Florence: Ant. Tubini, shortly after 1500], 4th ed.
    Book with printed text and four woodcut illustrations; 7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 1/4 in. (20 x 14 x 7 cm)
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925 (25.30.95)

    The sermon of the influential Dominican preacher Savonarola on the art of dying well, delivered on November 2, 1496, took up an old theme during an anxious time. What was innovative about the friar's approach to his subject was his insistence on the importance of images to make the reality of death more vivid. In the course of the sermon, he described three pictures that the audience should keep in their bedrooms and contemplate each morning when they awoke. In order to ensure the accessibility of these images to the public at large, many of whom could not afford paintings, Savonarola urged (while preaching on November 27, 1496) that his sermon on the art of dying be put into print and that it be accompanied by woodcuts of the three images he had described.

    The title page to this edition of Savonarola's sermon is adorned with a woodcut of the Triumph of Death, first used in a 1499 Florentine edition of Petrarch's Trionfi. Individuals of all ages and walks of life are crushed beneath the wheels of Death's chariot. In the background, at left, devils carry off the souls of the damned, while at right the souls of the blessed are transported up to heaven by angels.

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  • Predica del arte del ben morire (Sermon on the Art of Dying Well): Title page (signature a1)
    Author: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)
    [Florence: Ant. Tubini, shortly after 1500], 4th ed.
    Book with printed text and four woodcut illustrations; 7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 1/4 in. (20 x 14 x 7 cm)
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925 (25.30.95)

    Predica del arte del ben morire (Sermon on the Art of Dying Well): Signature a6v
    Author: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)
    [Florence: Ant. Tubini, shortly after 1500], 4th ed.
    Book with printed text and four woodcut illustrations

    7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 1/4 in. (20 x 14 x 7 cm)
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925 (25.30.95)

    The first image that Savonarola's audience was urged to contemplate was that of a man between heaven and hell. Here a young man stands beside Death, who indicates his choices by pointing to both the realm above the earth, "Qua su" (there above), where god receives the souls of the blessed with open arms, and that below, "Qua giù" (there below), where the tortures of the damned are vividly depicted. Behind the shoulder of the young man can be seen the city of Florence.

    Typical of Florentine woodcut illustration are the large areas of black that set off the figures and the ornamental frame with its bold black and white

    Predica del arte del ben morire (Sermon on the Art of Dying Well): Signature b4
    Author: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)
    [Florence: Ant. Tubini, shortly after 1500], 4th ed.
    Book with printed text and four woodcut illustrations

    7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 1/4 in. (20 x 14 x 7 cm)
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925 (25.30.95)

    A second image shows a sick man lying on his bed, with a devil at his head and Death knocking at the door. At the beginning of an illness, according to Savonarola, the devil will use friends, family, and even the doctor as means to turn the sick individual's thoughts from death, as everyone around him or her insists on the certainty of recovery. At the foot of the bed we see the doctor and the man's wife, each of whom is attended by a small devil. Savonarola urges that one think of death the moment sickness ensues, for the snares of the devil, the many distractions, and the difficulty of concentrating when one is dying, all make it r

    Predica del arte del ben morire (Sermon on the Art of Dying Well): Signature b6
    Author: Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498)
    [Florence: Ant. Tubini, shortly after 1500], 4th ed.
    Book with printed text and four woodcut illustrations

    7 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 1/4 in. (20 x 14 x 7 cm)
    Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925 (25.30.95)

    In the final image, Death is seated on the man's very bed. This elderly man has waited until the last moment to seek salvation, yet there is still hope, for all of Savonarola's recommendations are being heeded: the man has a confessor by his side; he is surrounded by people who pray constantly for his soul; and he has a large crucifix mounted on the wall opposite the foot of his bed, to which the priest directs his gaze.

    Both this image and the previous one provide a good idea of the decoration of a Florentine home in the late Quattrocento.


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