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


Tim Parks reveals the banking origins of Renaissance Italy's most famous family. The Medicis practically invented modern international finance, building a web of political connections to build their immensely profitable bank and create unprecedented wealth for themselves. Parks captures this important moment, when the medieval world was beginning to give way to modern capitalism.
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Medici Money: Banking, metaphysics and art in fifteenth-century Florence

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Tim Parks reveals the banking origins of Renaissance Italy's most famous family. The Medicis practically invented modern international finance, building a web of political connections to build their immensely profitable bank and create unprecedented wealth for themselves. Parks captures this important moment, when the medieval world was beginning to give way to modern capitalism.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The Renaissance, so often seen as a clean break with the medieval past, was really an age of creative ambivalence and paradox. In this marvelously fresh addition to the Enterprise series, Parks, author of the Booker-listed Europa and a literary observer of modern Italian life, turns to Florence and to a particularly compelling contradiction. The spirit of capitalist enterprise that fostered cultural originality and underpinned patronage was accompanied by a Christian conviction that money was a source of evil and that usury was a damnable spiritual offense. In the space where this cultural conflict plays out, sometimes as stylized as one of Lorenzo Il Magnifico's tournaments, sometimes as life-threateningly fiery as Savonarola's sermons against worldly vanities, we find a world both akin to our own and almost incomprehensibly distant. Parks is a clear-eyed guide to the ambiguities of Florentine culture, equally attentive to the intricacies of international exchange rates, the spiritual neurosis about unearned income, the shocking bawdiness of Lorenzo's carnival songs and the realpolitik of 15th-century power. His prose is swift and economical, cutting to the chase. Like the Medici-commissioned funerary monument for the anti-Pope John XXIII, the effect is startlingly vibrant, resembling "those moments in Dante's Inferno when one of the damned ceases merely to represent this or that sin and becomes a man or woman with a complex story, someone we are interested in, sympathetic towards." (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Parks (Italian Neighbors), an English writer who resides in Italy, exploits his interest in the intersections of wealth, art, religion, and politics by penning a history of the House of Medici for Norton's "Enterprise" business series. As he notes, the Medici were late entrants into the world of banking, but they used their resources to rise to the height of political power in republican Florence. The Medici bank was never the largest or the wealthiest of the early European banks. What set it apart was how the family that founded it used its riches to extend patronage not only to political supporters but also to artists and scholars. In addition, they bought favor and position from a powerful Catholic Church that prohibited usury and thus frowned on banking. While many of the Medici had a genuine interest in learning and the arts, they clearly recognized the propaganda value in supporting them. Parks has written an informative book that will appeal to both general readers and specialists. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The prolific Parks (Judge Savage, 2003, etc.), a Britisher now at home in Italy, offers a Renaissance splendor that is often scanted in the artistic glory of the era. The wealth of the Medicis supplied the plates and pallets of painters like Donatello and Fra Fillipo Lippi in a symbiotic relationship of art and craftiness. In Parks's portrait of doughty, gouty Cosimo (1389-1464), the emphasis is on the craftiness-on the way Cosimo ran his family, Florence and, as well, a mighty international banking system. When usury was a sin, depositary accounts entailed gifts, not interest. For nearly a century, the Medici banks were proficient in letters of credit, currency arbitrage, commodity exchange and other metaphysical financial practices, all without sin. The Church was a major client. Here's the story of the Medicis-doctors of finance and statecraft, governance and religion, trade, warfare, intrigue and despotism as contending Dukes duked it out in Tuscany. Condottieri (hired armies) were the enforcers, ducats and florins the means and ends. Cosimo was succeeded by his fat son, Piero the Gouty (1416-69), who was followed by homely, captivating Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92). Lorenzo may have been more interested in poetry and politics than in negotiable instruments and capital markets, yet one son became pope (and two weren't strong enough for the family business). The dynasty couldn't last, of course. Its power waned with bank failures, ill health and, particularly, with the advent of Girolamo Savoranola, the fundamentalist who challenged the humanist Medicis. Parks's narrative of the conflation of state power and the power of business, frequently told in the present tense, often insentence fragments, flows like money. Financial history never had it so good. A bright literary exercise, the third in the new series Enterprise ("the business book as literature"). (14 illus., not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393058277
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/17/2005
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 1.01 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2006

    Fascinating Medieval Financial Machinations

    If your knowledge of the Medici family begins and ends with their patronage of Renaissance artists, sharp-penned writer Tim Parks has some revelations to share. True, the Medicis used the wealth they amassed from their bank to turn Florence, Italy, into the Mecca of fifteenth-century culture. Yet, the Medici clan also perfected the arts of vanquishing foes and allying with the rich and powerful to gain a stranglehold on political power - all in bold-faced defiance of Catholic Church doctrine. The Vatican held that paying or collecting so much as a penny of interest was a mortal sin. Parks¿ book shows you what the Medici made of that, and his arch, witty style is a joy to read. Perhaps the only caution is that this history is more a study of the spiritual and social history of Florence than a guide to the Medicis¿ business successes and failures. We recommend this history to anyone interested in the intersection of money, politics and religion.

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