The Statue of Giordano Bruno

Freethinker and Hero

Campo dei Fiori, Rome

  • Josje van Zundert - Faculty of Medicine
  • Quentin Stikkers - Faculty of Economics and Business
  • Iris Beldhuis - Faculty of Medicine

The statue of Giordano Bruno is a political statement for the Unification of Italy, also known as the Risorgimento (19th century). The democratic reign of the Pope just ended; the state took Rome in 1870 and Rome became the capital of Italy half a year later. The statue is used to reinforce the opinion of the commissioners; freedom of speech should not be feared and the community should stick up for each other. Also, one of the most obvious statements was that the placing of the statue proved that Bruno´s scientific works about metaphysics were correct. The commissioners honoured him and the statue attributed greatly in clearing Bruno´s name.

Giordano Bruno (1548 – 1600) was, during the time of the disclosure of the statue in 1889, seen as a heroic example. The people of the ´new´ Rome were struggling with combining faith and religion with science in their daily lives. The citizens were strongly religious Catholics and believed in the words of the Pope and the principles of Christianity. However, the scientific revolution, which characterizes the Risorgimento, was also happening. Problems deriving from these contradictions existed not only in the individuals themselves, but also in the whole Roman community in that time. The supporters of the church disagreed greatly with the supporters of the commissioners, resulting in a conflict concerning the whole community.

This conflict has been an on-going problem. In 1600, when Bruno died, there was no one but himself who defended him. The people of Rome did not act. The statue can therefore be seen as an example of how a community should not behave. Therefore, Bruno also ignites a sense of unification; the people of Rome are stimulated to defend each other, to become one. Furthermore, the statue stimulates the individuals to stick up for themselves; freedom of speech should be a right and should not be feared.

The people could and still can identify themselves with Bruno. The statue stimulates the individuals of Rome to think for oneself, to speculate about science and religion and to create a sense of unity regarding the community.

The statue of Giordano Bruno on the Campo dei Fiori
1. Giordano Bruno
2. Campo dei Fiori
3. Commissioners and sculptor
4.The monument of Giordano Bruno
4.1The Statue
4.3 Scenes
5 The reactions to the monument

Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno was born in Nola, Italy in 1548 and originated from a poor family. At the age of 11, Bruno was sent to Naples to be lectured in Latin, literature, philosophy and ´logos´. He was also educated through the words the Church, meaning he was a highly respected monk during his life. This is where he enlarged his knowledge about Christianity.

During his life he developed himself to be quite a philosopher and would therefore later be referred to as a Philosopher of the Renaissance. The fields he was especially interested and superior in were; mysticism, metaphysics, philosophy and theosophy.

Bruno was regarded as one of the experts in his fields of interests that time. He therefore gained a group of followers, who he also lectured and helped during his life as a philosopher. He was especially well known or famous for his opinions about metaphysics and Christianity.

His most famous work ´De La Causa, Principio et Uno´ – in what he questioned the principles of Christianity- started some definite uproaring regarding the Papacy. His beliefs and written words were challenging the words and beliefs of the Papacy.

However, even after several warnings of the Inquisition, he did not back down. He was a proud man who strongly believed in and stood behind his works. Bruno wanted the people to know the truth. Not only the scientific truth about the universe but also the truth about the untruths written in the Bible. He therefore was prosecuted for theological heresy. The inquisition captured Giordano Bruno in 1592 and then, after 8 years of imprisonment, horrifically burned him on the Campo dei Fiori in 1600.

After his death he became legendary known as a martyr for science. He did not back down, what if he would had done, could have saved him from the gruesome death he endured. Subsequently, Bruno was thought of as an example for the freethinkers and a symbol for the Risorgimento.[2]

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori means translated Field of Flowers, and is nowadays a very attractive place for tourists. Nevertheless, it is a place with history. I.e. on February 17th 1600 Giordano Bruno was burned alive by the authorities at this place. Therefore the chosen spot of the statue is not only quite logical, but also a clear statement. Using this place, where the Inquisition burned Bruno, can be seen as a clear provocation against the Church. Because, it shows that during the time of the Risorgimento, people had the courage to doubt the church in such a way that a statue was made for a heretic. This statue can be seen as a symbol where the people of the Risorgimento could identify themselves with. The struggle between religion and scientific freedom was a continuous problem during the time of the Risorgimento, and it still is nowadays. At the statue, people place political statements of contemporary political issues. This shows that currently the statue still has a political meaning. As a result, it can be concluded that this statue was and is a symbol for all kind of critics in respect of problems faced in society.[3]

Commissioners and sculptor

A group of students of the University of Rome and intellectual luminaries such as Victor Hugo (France), and Henrik Ibsen (Norway) and various Freemasons agreed in 1885 to raise a statue of Giordano Bruno on the Campo dei Fiori. They commissioned Ettore Ferrari to create a statue of Giordano Bruno. The students of Rome, who commissioned the statue, were part of an association named "Atheneo Romano", which can be compared to a fraternity nowadays. The reason on that they commissioned a statue of Bruno, was that they wanted to honor and remember Bruno. Furthermore this statue was a reaction on Pope Leo XIII´s release of the encyclical Humanorum Genus (1884). In this work Pope Leo XIII explains how Freemasons were advancing the cause of Satan. This shows that this statue was a reaction towards the church.[4]

The sculptor was Ettore Ferrari (1845-1929). In 1889 he finished Bruno´s statue on the Campo dei Fiori. Ferrari was not only a sculptor, but also a deputy in the Italian Parliament. Besides that he was a Member of XXV Roman Countryside. Furthermore he was an extreme left winged Freemason.[5] Which was a group of artists, founded in 1904, which held specific views: i.e. art in Rome should be renewed and should be more realistic. The very raison Ferrari was chosen to create the sculptor, was due to the fact that he had revolutionary and renewing ideas in respect of art in general.

The monument of Giordano Bruno

The monument of Giordano Bruno consists of three elements. At first sight you see the prominent statue of Giordano Bruno. But when you look closer at the monument you can see that beneath the statue there are eight medallions of various scientists and four scenes depicted from the life of Giordano Bruno. The statue, medallions and the scenes all contribute to the story behind the monument.

The statue

Statue Giordano Bruno

The first impression of the statue is that Giordano Bruno was a person with a lot of self-confidence. The statue is very impressive and it seems like Giordano Bruno is looking down on the crowd that is staring up at the face of Bruno. His facial expression is a little bit grumpy but on the other hand it gives the impression that he is very convinced of his case and also proud. This fits the description of his life and the way he handled with the inquisition. He was not backing down and unlike other scientists or philosophers of that time he stood by his words. The clenched fist stresses this interpretation of the way the commissioners wanted to show what kind of person Giordano Bruno was.

An element of the statue that also tells a story about what kind of person Giordano Bruno was, is the cape he is wearing. The cape is covering his whole body and he wears the hood over his head. The cape is a symbol of the Dominican friar he was. Although he had other ideas about the world than the Papacy had, he believed in God and was a Christian. This seems like a contradiction but this is an important element of the message of the monument. The time the monument was revealed Rome was since nineteen years no longer part of the Vatican. The Roman people got the chance to think for themselves. But they were struggling with the fact that not everything the Papacy says is in line with the scientific facts. By showing that Giordano Bruno had the same struggle the people of Rome could identify with him. And it also implies that it is maybe possible to be a Christian but also believe in science.

Another element of the statue is the book he is holding in his hands. This book can be interpreted as the book Giordano Bruno has written. And by holding this book the commissioners wanted to show that he was right after all. Thus the book represents the so called ´truth´. This also reflects his confident and stoic attitude.

Scientists P. Ramus and L. Vanini

The statue also contains eight medallions of scientists. Six scientists out of eight scientists are contemporaries of Bruno. The other two are dated earlier. In general all eight scientists have one thing in common. They all had a critical view towards the church and questioned various core value and religious opinions of the church. Which is also the main link between Bruno and these scientists. It is not just a coincidence that eight scientist, who were opposing the church, are placed at the statue. This gives the statue a more encumbered meaning. This shows that message behind this statue is that Bruno was not the only person, who was contradicting the church. Therefore, the statements Bruno made are shared among other scientists.[6]

Petrus Ramus (1515-1572) is one of the eight scientists pictured at the statue. Petrus Ramus was a French philosopher, logician, rhetorician and humanist. In 1561 Ramus converted to Protestantism. Consequently, he was accused by the church of undermining the foundations of philosophy and religion. Petrus Ramus was killed by assassins two days after the start of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew´s Day.[7]

The second scientist is Lucilio Vanini (1585-1619). Vanini was an Italian philosopher, physician and free-thinker. Vanini was eventually burned alive in Toulouse because he suggested that humans evolved from apes. He was one of the first scientists who believed that natural laws are the main reason why the universe as such is as it is. Furthermore he attacked the scholastic ideology. Scholactism was a methodology of defending dogma´s, which were used a lot by the church.[8]

Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623) can be seen at the statue as well. Sarpi was an Italian scientist and historian. He was one of the first philosophers who had logical arguments for atheism. Furthermore, he was well known for his view on the debate state versus religion. Because Sarpi saw the state as such as necessary and religion as a supportive instrument in a state, rather than that religion is equally important as the state. This view was of course quite controversial.[9]

Tomasso Campanella (1568-1639) was an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer. He was a friend of Galileo Galilei. Campanella defended Galileo Galilei during his first trial. Campanalla was also critical about scholactism. With his astrological views, he came into conflict with the church, consequently he was prosecuted by the Inquisition.[9]

Micheal Servetus (1509 -1553) was a Spanish theologian, physician and cartographer. He was as Petrus Ramus a humanist. He had a different view than the church on the sacred Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Ghost). In his work "Errors of the Trinity" he elaborated the thesis: those who believed in the Trinity were really Tritheists (believers in three gods) or atheists. He said the gods of the Trinitarians were a three-headed monster and a deception of the devil. Both Protestants and Catholics found the work blasphemous, and the Spanish emperor Charles V banned it.[10]

Aonio Paleario (ca. 1500-1703) was an Italian humanist. He published a work called Della Pienezza, sufficienza, et satisfazione della Passione di Christo, of Libellus de morte Christi. In this work he describes the advantages of Jesus Christ dead. Paleario was therefore prosecuted by the inquisition. He was accused of heresy. However Paleario defended himself successfully.[11]

John Wycliffe (1330-1384) was an English philosopher, theologian and preacher. He was a Theology professor at Oxford University. He is mostly known as being an early critic of the church. He questioned the scripture as being the primary source of Christianity. Wycliffe is often known as the precursor for Martin Luther King. Wycliffe died from suffering a stroke in 1384. At 4 may 1415 his work was condemned heretic by the Council of Constance (1414-1418), and all his work was banned[12]

Jan Hus (1369-1415) was a Czech priest and is considered as one of the first church reformers, after John Wycliffe. Hus was a follower of Wycliffe thoughts. Furthermore, Hus was critical of abuses within the church. In 1415 the authorities of the before mentioned Council of Constance condemned Jan Hus as a heretic and facilitated his execution by the civil authority.[13]


Beneath the statue four scenes from the life of Giordano Bruno are depicted. At the base of the statue is an inscription that gives a bit of general information. The date of the inauguration is presented in Roman numerals, XI Giugno MDCCCLXXXIX. The sentence that the philosopher Bruno Bovio pronounced during the inauguration ceremony is depicted in the middle of the inscription[14]


Giordano Bruno as a professor

This sentence underlines the importance of the place where the monument is placed. Furthermore it confirms that what he said during his live would eventually make sense to the people of Rome. Thus the commissioners showed by this sentence a piece of the story behind the monument that they wanted to tell to the people of Rome. The other sentence on the inscription provides information about the commissioners of the statue.

Trial of Giordano Bruno


The other three scenes tell three different crucial moments from Bruno´s life. On one scene Giordano Bruno is illustrated as a professor. He is probably speaking about his findings in a lecture room at the university of Oxford or in Paris where he was teaching about for example philosophy or metaphysics. His body language gives the impression that he is speaking rhetorical. The other people in the room are colleagues and students. One student is taking notes and the other people are listening carefully. Therefore this scene depicts the period that Giordano Bruno is preaching his ideas about metaphysics but also about the trinity of the Christianity. Especially his opinions about the last matter started a conflict between Giordano Bruno and the Papacy. This conflict resulted in a trial between Giordano Bruno and the Inquisition. The trial is illustrated on the next scene.

In this scene Giordano Bruno is standing upright with his chest forwards, which expresses that he will not surrender. The man who is the judge is depicted as a big and lazy person. The man behind Giordano Bruno looks like a person of the Swiss Guard. These two persons represent the message of the commissioners that the trial against Giordano Bruno was not a fair trial. He was actually a political prisoner. A remarkable detail in the scene is the depiction of Jesus Christ above the judge. Jesus Christ died as a martyr. Thus this depiction of Jesus Christ can be interpreted as a message that Giordano Bruno also died as a martyr and was in that way the same as Jesus Christ.

The death of Giordano Bruno

The dead of Giordano Bruno is illustrated at the last scene. In this scene Giordano Bruno is burned on the stake accompanied by many spectators. Two of the spectators are representatives of the Church. The striking thing is that the representatives are looking away from Giordano Bruno. Other spectators who are looking away can be people of the Guard. There is also a woman with her child depicted who leads her child to the stake. This can be interpreted as the child who is a symbol of the future and in that way gives the impression that. Giordano Bruno himself is again depicted as a confident man who stood by his words. He had again clenched fists even though he knows that his dead is nearby.

These three scenes contributed to the message that Giordano Bruno was right after all and that he died as a martyr. The scenes put the Church in a bad daylight and give the people of Rome the opportunity to think about their own opinions.

It also strengthens the logos of the monument. By showing Giordano Bruno´s life story the public knows more about the truth. Because of this the persuasion of the monument will be more effective. And this results in a public that has more emotions (pathos) and understands the message behind the monument.[15]

The reactions to the monument

Even before the monument was placed in 1889 there was a lot of commotion. The source of the commotion was the unification of Italy and especially the conquest of Rome by the new-formed Kingdom of Italy, through which Rome was no longer part of the Vatican but became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. This led to a lot of friction between the high-ranked people of the Church and the heads of the Kingdom of Italy. The pope at that time, Pope Pius IX (Senigallia, 13 May1792 – Rome, 7 February 1878), saw himself as a prisoner in the Vatican. The Kingdom of Italy made overtures to the Church by introducing the Law of Guarantees (1871). This law recognized the sovereign power of the pope and it also offered a financially indemnification. But the conquered territories stayed the property of the Kingdom of Italy. Therefore Pope Pius IX did not agree with this proposal and reacted with a decree (a clerical law).In this decree, called Non Expedit (1874), Pius IX prohibited all the Catholics to participate in any election for the Italian Parliament. This conflict between the government and the Church also influenced the realization of the monument of Giordano Bruno. Bureaucratic strategies were used to prevent the realization of the monument. This delayed the manufacturing of the monument.

In this decree, called Non Expedit (1874), Pius IX prohibited all the Catholics to participate in any election for the Italian Parliament. This conflict between the government and the Church also influenced the realization of the monument of Giordano Bruno. Bureaucratic strategies were used to prevent the realization of the monument. This delayed the manufacturing of the monument.gave the order to the commissioners to create the bronze statue despite of the obstruction. Not only the government and the Church had a conflict about the monument, other people were also interfering with the discussion. The discussion resulted in multiple collisions between the ´Bruniani´ and the ´anti-Bruniani´. These collisions often ended in arrests and wounded persons. In 1888 the placement of the monument was officially accepted on the Campo dei Fiori. This decision was received with applause of the public and they shouted: ´Viva Crispi!´.

The conflict between the Church and the government did not only led to the collisions but it actually changed something at the monument. The original idea was that Giordano Bruno was walking with his eyes facing forward and holding a book in his hands, as if he was crossing the square and headed to the place of execution. But the orientation of the monument changed. The monument was placed in the centre of the square with his eyes looking towards the Vatican. This change of plans stresses the conflict between the Church and the creators of the monument.[16][17]

The controversy about the monument did not end after the revelation. In 1929 newspapers and Catholic circles insisted to remove the monument. Nevertheless this request got no support. Nowadays the monument of Giordano Bruno is still standing on the centre of the Campo dei Fiori.

Up till now the Church has not expressed repentance for the death of Giordano Bruno. The Church only acknowledged that the way Giordano Bruno was burned was not right. But the ideas that Bruno had are still incorrect in the eyes of the Catholic tenet.

[18 [19]]


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  16. Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture, Jas Elsner & Michel Meyer]
  20. : Essays on Giordano Bruno , Hilary Gath]
  22. Giordano Bruno , William Boulting
  23. The Italian Risorgimento , Martin Clark