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The Merchant of Prato: Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  202 ratings  ·  24 reviews
Francesco di Marco Datini, the 14th-century Tuscan merchant who forms the subject of the Marchesa Origo's study, has now probably become the most intimately accessible figure of the later-Middle Ages. In 1870 the whole astonishing cache, containing some 150,000 letters and great numbers of business documents, came to light. The Marchesa Origo has drawn on this material to ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published December 10th 1992 by Penguin (first published December 1957)
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This lovely study of mercantile life in northern Italy based on a chance find of a set of documents which turned out to be almost the complete archive of Francesco di Marco Datini (1335ish - 1410 (view spoiler)). Datini came from Prato in Tuscany, as a young man went to work in Avignon - at the time the seat of the Papacy and an important commercial centre - where he set up a shop which expanded over time into a far reaching network of com ...more
Feb 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: histories
A friend who knew of my interest in textiles recommended that I read this. Francesco Di Marco Datini was (among other things) a wool trader in 14th century Tuscany. The most interesting thing about the book is the raw materials the author uses to reconstruct Datini's life: he left unbelievably vast amounts of letters, business records, ledgers, all of which were discovered undisturbed and intact in the 1870s. Just the fact that all this material was left in a room under the stairs for over 400 y ...more
William T
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a well researched, very well written biography. Barbara Tuchman got it right when she wrote, "one of the great works of historical writing of the twentieth century." Having said that, it takes an unusual curiosity to want to read 389 pages of a biography of an obscure Merchant from the 13th and 14th century, dying in 1410. That curiosity is, however, well rewarded in a wide ranging description of life, religion and business in the 14th century France and Italy.

Written in 1957, this book
Robert Gebhardt
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: journals, tuscany
Quite dry and full of facts, but an excellent book. Taken from correspondence and contemporary writings and literature. A fascinating insight into a family's life in the late 14th century in Avignon and Prato. ...more
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
'De koopman uit Prato' is bijna een spreekwoordelijk beroemde middeleeuwer, beroemder dan vrijwel ieder ander willekeurige figuur van niet-aristocratische komaf - en dat is vrij opmerkelijk. Want hij was niet geïnteresseerd in politiek (speelde daarin ook geen noemenswaardige rol), schreef geen traktaten of gedichten, maakte geen kunst, en leidde in geen enkel opzicht een uitzonderlijk leven. Nee, in zekere zin valt hij juist op omdat hij zo normaal was.

Zijn reputatie is voor een groot deel te d
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Read the paper book, on “recommendation” from the chief curator at The Frick Collection. An unexpectedly wonderful read - thoughtfully researched and written in an extremely readable way, this is a story of a man who came from nothing and became a prosperous merchant in the Middle Ages. I loved learning about everyday life of this period in Tuscany - the food, the houses, the clothing, the customs, all gleaned from a treasure trove of letters and business records of a single man who was wise (or ...more
Richard Koerner
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not my usual book, but at Randy's recommendation, I read it. This is the actual story of a man in the late 14th and early 15th centuries in Italy, Prato to be exact. Prato is near Florence. He was a businessman and spent much time in Avignon, France as well as Italy. He documented pretty much everything, and the author, Iris Origo, managed to put it into a form that reads easily. It is an amazing account of life in that time period and what people had to do to get along and how they deal ...more
Godine Publisher & Black Sparrow Press
"Like a modern day Forrest Gumpp, Datini was an average person dealing with the everyday business of life but one where circumstances placed him at the center of great change. He lived at the time of transition from the middle ages to the modern era and was one of the many who were in the forefront of the march to modern times. He was a minor figure at the Papal Court in Avignon which was the center of a political and religious struggle. And, unlike the thousands of others in the same position, ...more
Jose Esquibel
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well-researched account of the 14th-century merchant, Francesco di Marco Datini. If you enjoy reading about the early history and commercial success of the Medici family of Florence, you'll discover many business details that contributed to the Medici prosperity found in the rich records left by Datini as revealed by Iris Origo. ...more
Alexandra Wieland
Jan 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Well researched and beautifully written book on Francesco Datini of Prato, and his household.
Floortje Zwigtman
Interessant verslag van het leven in het Middeleeuwse Toscane, gebaseerd op het archief dat de rijke koopman uit de titel naliet. Veel boeiende details maar helaas ook net wat te veel herhalingen.
John McCormack
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating insight into life way back then. Then,as now, business was all that mattered to the merchant. Everthing else, everything, was secondary.
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Scholarly analysis of the life of a 14thC cloth merchant who left behind a trove of his commercial and personal papers, by a early 20thC polymath.
Jan 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I alluded the other day to a biography shelf that I decided to dissolve and redistribute (everything could be moved into history, art history, British lit etc).

Aside from needing the space (for a liquor cabinet!), it held rather a lot of miscellany in the sense of books that I couldn't tell you where I got them or who they were about.

Glancing at this in an "I might read this and give it away" kind of mood, the opening sentence of Barbara Tuchman's 1986 foreword "Why is this book one of the grea
Francesco di Marco Datini was a 14th-century merchant, born in Prato, and who ran businesses throughout Western Mediterranean. From a whole stache of letters and documents, this book brings him to life in such remarkable detail - it's really astonishing, considering he lived around 700 years ago and history - from its sheer wight - usually has a way of reducing and removing the nuance out of all but the most recent lives.

But Franceso is revealed here in all his miserly, nervy, grumbling self. Hi
Stuart Miller
Feb 18, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-cpl-copy
Anyone curious about life in late medieval Italy will be enthralled by this rather charming account of the life of Francesco de Prato, a wealthy merchant based in Prato, a small Tuscan town not far from Florence. Much to our benefit, Francesco's papers--letters, journals, contracts, ledgers, bills, invoices, etc., both business and personal--survived, allowing for an intimate view of his life in the late 14th century. Each chapter focuses on certain aspects of his life, e.g., his marriage, his f ...more
Humberto Ballesteros
Carefully researched, exquisitely detailed and pleasantly narrated, this biography of an Italian merchant during the advent of capitalism is a goldmine of daily life minutiae for anyone interested in late medieval or early modern Europe. I particularly appreciated the attention that Origo paid to slaves and their role in Francesco Datini's household. ...more
Feb 20, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was prepared for this book to be quite dry, and a bit of a struggle to get through, but in actual fact it was a relatively easy read. I can't pretend the intricate details (the precise number of articles of furniture in the house, or count of linen in the linen chest) really interested me, but the overall image of 13th century Italian life is well captured in the book. ...more
Cannot read this -- the print is very small and just to open the book to be able to see the middle margins, I will break its spine. Too bad, fascinating history. I've got soldi and florins and ducats in my brain. ...more
Mykyta Kuzmenko
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Занимательно. О жизни предпренимателя в Европе до Колумба.
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this but I don’t know who I’d recommend it to.
Richard Marshall
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and interestingly told.
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Everything you always wanted to know about a 14th century Italian merchant but never got around to asking about - and for good reason!
I read it in Italian. I am normally not a fan of biografy, but I have to say, the life/story of this man was interesting.
Madison Partida
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Fred Misurella
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Iris Origo was a British-born biographer and writer. She lived in Italy and devoted much of her life to the improvement of the Tuscan estate at La Foce, which she purchased with her husband in the 1920s. During the Second World War, she sheltered refugee children and assisted many escaped Allied prisoners of war and partisans in defiance of Italy’s fascist regime and Nazi occupied forces. She is t ...more

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