Donald Weinstein, Influential Historian on the Renaissance, Dies at 89

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Donald Weinstein

Donald Weinstein, a historian whose 1970 study, “Savonarola and Florence: Prophecy and Patriotism in the Renaissance,” overturned long-held assumptions about 15th-century Florence and redrew the contours of Renaissance scholarship, died on Dec. 13 in Tucson. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Beverly Parker.

In his lucid, elegantly written book, Professor Weinstein took dead aim at the reigning theory, associated with Jacob Burckhardt and other German scholars, that the cultural rebirth of Florence was a purely secular phenomenon.

It was an approach that left historians with a puzzle. How did Savonarola, a wandering Dominican friar preaching sermons of hellfire and damnation against virtually all forms of pleasure and frivolity, and an opponent of the ruling Medicis, capture the imagination of Florentines in the 1590s and become a central figure in the city’s politics?

Carefully sifting through contemporary sources, Professor Weinstein placed Savonarola in his social, historical and religious context. He was able to demonstrate, for example, that Savonarola’s political and religious message had persuasive power in part because he drew on a shared prophetic tradition with his listeners when he described Florence as having been chosen by God to be a moral beacon and, at the same time, showered with material blessings. ...

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