A Notary “Photographed” the Burning at the Stake of Giordano Bruno



Gottarello for the carrying out of the sentence imposed by the Inquisition’s tribunal. The name of Gottarello had never before appeared in any document: it is he who has the task of arranging the procession to take Bruno to the Campo de’ Fiori. The Inquisition used to hand responsibility for the carrying out of capital punishment to the secular arm.

“….. In the absence of court records and given the scarcity of documents about the life of Bruno, this new discovery adds a small detail to the reconstruction of events. But the most valuable element is the notary’s drawing. It is a sketch, to be sure. Certainly, it is a manuscript that has been damaged by humidity. But a sketch that is the only eyewitness account of the burning at the stake could provide useful information if studied in detail using instruments allowing scholars to distinguish the artist’s strokes more clearly from the ink smears.

“….. But this sketch – which, we repeat, is deserving of further study – cannot be considered an isolated case. Indeed, there exist various examples where the registers carry, in the margins, pictures of those condemned to death with a series of important details….. How many more documents that are important for the history of our great intellectual and artistic heritage may yet emerge from the archives? In Rome, if it were not for the excellent initiative of the managers of the State Archives in turning to private sponsors for the restoration of important documents about Caravaggio, we would never have had the opportunity to fill out new details of the life of the great painter and now of the life of Giordano Bruno”. 

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These stories, from times past and present, emerge from the provisions of the last wills and testaments of famous men and women as well as of ordinary people. They make interesting and in some cases even comical reading. Those who choose to give a noble end to their existence through a charitable bequest turn their will into a story of love for their fellow man and send a message of hope to new generations.