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  • Orpheus in the Marketplace: Jacopo Peri and the Economy of Late Renaissance Florence by Tim Carter and Richard Goldthwaite
  • Carl Feibusch
Tim Carter and Richard Goldthwaite, Orpheus in the Marketplace: Jacopo Peri and the Economy of Late Renaissance Florence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 2013) 479 pp.

To scholars of music, Jacopo Peri (1561–1633) needs no introduction; his Euridice is the first opera to survive extant. However, Tim Carter and Richard Goldthwaite note that, while still considering Peri’s musical endeavors, this monograph is more about his role as a merchant in the late Renaissance Florentine economy. In essence this is an economic biography, “a microhistory of the life of one fairly ordinary Florentine merchant.” (ix) The primary source used for their examination is two dozen account books belonging to Peri which Goldthwaite discovered in the Archivio di Stato, Florence (ASF). This study tries to do precisely as its title claims, namely to place Peri’s economic activities within the larger context of the Florentine economy. Yet, this book is so much more that. Tracing Peri’s life, the authors “place him in his social and [End Page 219] other worlds” (2) and give insight into how “someone of relatively modest means offers us a comprehensive view of the economic world of his time.” (2) Their examination fills holes in the previous historiography in two ways. It satisfies a real need by analyzing the marketplace of late Renaissance Florence, a subject which before had been surprisingly unstudied. This study is even more vital due to Florence’s place as a center of great financial importance a century earlier. Moreover, it is the first economic biography of an operator in the marketplace including the more famous international merchants for which Florence is known.

The crux of the book revolves around three main chapters. The three “worlds” the authors are analyzing are the social (chapter 1), the economic (chapter 2), and the musical (chapter 3). Working with this newly discovered source, Carter and Goldthwaite use it to draw masterful analogies and supplement it with examples from other contemporary sources to further support their thesis. The first chapter analyzes the social dimensions of Peri’s life. The authors demonstrate that Peri’s three marriages were not only a way to continue his familial line, but rather as means to important political and social ends. Marriage to his third wife, Alessandra di Dino Fortini, brought him more social prestige due to the social networks enjoyed by her family. (61) Also, a significant way to solidify the complex social networks that Peri moved in was by the naming of godparents. Carter and Goldthwaite show Peri frequently resorted to using these relationships to further his banking and musical careers.

Chapter 2 is devoted to Peri’s financial world. Using Peri’s account books, the authors embark on an intricate analysis of Peri’s numerous financial dealings and the multifaceted nature of the Florentine marketplace. From this examination, most importantly, they derive conclusions pertaining to the Florentine economic scene as a whole. There was more disposable wealth; thus, the rich became richer, but the larger middling class, of which Peri was a member, was also becoming more affluent. Therefore, more money was spent for consumption and on instruments for saving and investment. (352) Moreover, the authors note a novel event in the history of the Florentine economy, “an impressive growth of a capital market” (354) through the use of three financial instruments designed to attract wealth: the bill of exchange, the censo, and government securities. Investment in these instruments was indicative of a more profound change in the fiscal culture of Florentines, a savings revolution. People like Peri acquired these things because they wanted a stable and fixed income. (355) The channeling of money into these instruments depicts a distinct difference from the financial practices of a century earlier. No longer were Florentines investing “in the forward sectors of the economy or in productive enterprise of any kind.” (356) The wool and silk industries, products which Florence was famous for a century earlier, were now almost defunct due to a lack of investment capital.

The authors turn to the Florentine music scene in chapter...