Twenty-first-century diaries are a private affair, teeming with ruminations in voices as melodramatic as they are idiosyncratic. They are a far cry from their historical precursors—the diaries and journals of fourteenth-century Italy. This “diary” (pictured left), so to speak, belonged to Pepo degli Albizzi, a merchant and fastidious chronicler. The Albizzis are best remembered as the ousted contemporaries of Cosimo de Medici (and if their choice of company is telling, the Albizzi diary is sure to be a captivating read). To the modern reader, Pepo’s diary is a curious fusion, bridging the gap between the personal and profitable. Indeed, it broaches an expansive scope of topics, as Pepo chronicles wool-cloth transactions, casualties of the Black Plague, and the monetary birthright of feuding brothers. The diary (or should we say ledger book?) is a textbook instantiation of the ricordanze, a then-new literary genre, which marries finances to family histories.
In itself, the ledger’s presentation is a testament of its origins. Composed on parchment leaves, it is penned in archetypal mercantesca—that is, in a merchant’s well-ordered hand. Its precision is not indicative of Pepo’s personality, but of the Renaissance ethos: merchants felt that a well-kept record was vital to entrepreneurial integrity. And sure enough, Pepo’s integrity (or the appearance thereof) translated into commercial triumph. The diary was something of a luxury item, fashioned in red calf and lined in white leather.
The Albizzi diary—and 124 other special items—can be seen and studied at the opening of The Newberry 125 on September 6. And for those who are hoping to sneak an even closer peek, Paul F. Gehl, Custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing, will present “Renaissance Families: The Evidence of a Florentine Diary” on September 8, at 11 am.
Submitted by Corinne Zeman, Newberry Communications Intern.