Banks, Book-Keeping, and the Rise of Commercial Capitalism by Richard Jackson: Summary

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Discussion of Essay XV, “Banks, Bookkeeping, and the Rise of Commercial Capitalism,” in Sprezzatura by Richard Jackson
Essay XV of Sprezzatura provides a clear and concise description of the development and rise of banking, accounting, and capitalistic practices. The author, Richard Jackson, begins the short essay with a brief history of the Vivaldi brothers’ voyage to the West Indies in 1291. The remainder of the essay is organized chronologically and spans from the late 11th century--when Genoa tried to extract control of the Mediterranean, through the early 1400’s where the Venetians became the “masters of all the gold in Christendom” (D’Epiro, 110-111), to the 16th and 17th centuries, when control of commerce moved North of the Alps to more centralized regions of Europe. Jackson seems to focus more attention on actual events and practices that took place during this time period as opposed to focusing on specific people in history.

The three most important aspects of this essay were the funding of the Renaissance, the creation and uses of the commenda, and the development of double-entry bookkeeping. The growth of Italian banking procedures gave rise to other European countries to start taking advantage of the innovation. Italians soon became bankers to the kings and popes across Europe, helping finance both France and England in the Hundred Years’ War, as well as gathering “…tithes as far away as Greenland, where the tribute was paid in sealskins and whalebone” (D’Epiro, 106). Soon Italian banks—specifically the Medici Bank of Florence—began to expand throughout Italy and other parts of Europe creating massive amounts of profits, which in turn helped financially support the Renaissance, a cultural movement revolved around the flowering (or rebirth) of literature, art, science, and religion.

The commenda, literally translating to the English word “commendation”, was the direct result of the Italian business mindset. Italian businessmen mastered...
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