Charity and State in Late Renaissance Italy: The Monte Di Pietaa of Florence

Charity and State in Late Renaissance Italy: The Monte Di Pietaa of Florence

Charity and State in Late Renaissance Italy: The Monte Di Pietaa of Florence

Charity and State in Late Renaissance Italy: The Monte Di Pietaa of Florence

Synopsis

Drawing on extensive archival evidence, Carol Bresnahan Menning examines the remarkable evolution of the Florentine monte from a small charitable pawnshop to a flourishing savings organization and a powerful instrument of patronage and state finance.

Excerpt

In the minds of its founders, there was no doubt about the purpose of the Florentine monte di pietà: it had been created, in the words of the statutes, "to be able to lend against pawns to poor persons with as little interest as possible." Until its demise in the nineteenth century with Italian unification, the monte di pietà continued to accept pawns and to offer low-cost small loans. Yet less than half a century after its founding in 1496, the monte also began to undertake other functions far different from those envisioned by its founders and to serve social groups other than the poor. By the late 1530s it agreed to pay 5 percent interest on deposits and by the next decade it was flooded with income, the bulk of which came from middle-class persons seeking a safe if conservative investment. the establishment's liquidity quickly attracted the attention of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici who, seeing the monte, as his son and heir Francesco bluntly put it, "abounding in money," used its resources to finance loans to himself, his family, and friends. the duke's personal, dynastic, and public financial schemes were, in essence, subsidized by the monte di pietà, which was in turn supported by its poor clientele and its middle-class depositors.

With its incomparably rich documentation, the Florentine monte gives us a viewpoint from which to observe issues of importance not just for Florentine history, but for the development of the state in early modern Europe. It offers an excellent example of how a republican charitable establishment was transformed into an instrument of banking, state finance, and patronage under pressure first . . .

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