Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (Enterprise)

Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence (Enterprise)

Tim Parks

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0393328457

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“A swift and brilliant synthesis of finance, politics, and history.”―Ben Sisario, New York Times Book Review

Before they achieved renown as patrons of the arts and de facto rulers of Florence, the Medici family earned their fortune in banking. But even at the height of the Renaissance, charging interest of any kind meant running afoul of the Catholic Church’s ban on usury. Tim Parks reveals how the legendary Medicis―Cosimo and Lorenzo “the Magnificent” in particular―used the diplomatic, military, and even metaphysical tools at hand, along with a healthy dose of intrigue and wit, to further their fortunes as well as their family’s standing.

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unwatered. One of Cosimo’s favorite sayings. Because the florin was worth a great deal and could not be broken down into smaller coins (otherwise the poor would have begun to use it), bankers found it necessary to invent an accounting currency, so that wholesale prices and discretionary gifts could be calculated in fractions of florins. So the lira a fiorino must rap- HW871501_Text 18/07/2013 18:03:50 Medici Money 37 idly be mentioned. This was worth twenty twenty-ninths of a florin (yes,

to another, provided an ambiguous territory that kept trade moving and many in a constant state of anxiety as to the destination of their eternal souls. Some merchants steered clear of the whole business, convinced it was a sin. Some less scrupulous operators were happy about the Church’s position because it scared off the squeamish and reduced the competition. The practical effect was that longterm loans became difficult, because a bill of exchange must always be paid in no more than the time

first story of the Decameron. Ser Ciappelletto, notorious liar, cheat, fornicator, murderer, and sodomist (the list begins to look familiar), a notary by profession, is sent to a foreign country to do some debt collecting. He lodges with the local Italians, who, true to the nation’s international vocation, are usurers. He falls mortally ill. They are terrified: if their guest doesn’t confess, he will be denied burial; if he does, the scandal of the company they are keeping will offer local people

the bloodless nature of this transfer of power. “Yet it was tinged with blood in some part,” Machiavelli reminds us. Together with four other citizens, Antonio Guadagni, son of Bernardo (the gonfaloniere della giustizia who had accepted Cosimo’s bribe), left his designated place of exile to go to Venice. Given the city’s good relations with Cosimo, this was unwise. The five were arrested, sent to Florence, and beheaded. HW871501_Text 18/07/2013 18:03:50 HW871501_Text 18/07/2013 18:03:50

grain from Puglia, farther down the coast. But could that justify the huge capital investment of around 13,000 florins, far larger than the Medici investment in the more important commercial centers of Venice and Bruges? Florence was at war. Once again the Italian scenario was fantastically complicated: a succession dispute down in Naples between the Angevin and Aragon families; the two condottieri, Francesco Sforza and Niccolò Piccinino, at each other’s throats in the Papal States; the pope

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