Francesco di Marco Datini (c. 1335 – 16 August 1410) was an Italian merchant born in Prato.
He was one of four children of Marco di Datino and Monna Vermigilia, who both died with two of their children as a result of the Black Death in 1348.
After his parents death, he was raised by a woman whom he called his "substitute mother." Their relationship seems to have been a positive one. We see a letter from her signed "your mother in love."
He became an apprentice of a merchant in Florence and when he was fifteen, he joined a group of merchants who were going to Avignon, the city where the Popes had moved at the time. His first business was the arms trade, which was quite profitable in Avignon during the Hundred Years' War. He eventually became a supplier of luxury goods and art for the wealthy cardinals residing there. The works of art these figures bought were some of the first consumed for private, non religious use. Before this time, the church had been the primary patron of the arts. Later on, the papacy and other pious individuals commissioned religious artwork, creating a use for Francesco's merchant skills. He was not interested in the product itself, but whether it was good quality or not, so that it might please his buyers. This individual buying of artwork is a trend that we see going into the renaissance.
In 1376, Datini entered an engagement with Margherita Bandini, the daughter of Domenico Bandini and Dianora Gheradini. Margherita was living in Avignon with her mother after her father was executed for his role in an anti-republican plot and her brothers were exiled. The couple returned to Prato to live in 1383, where his business continued to thrive.
Over the next 27 years the couple frequently corresponded through letters, giving us an insight into their marriage, his personality and his business. In the year 1400 (around the time of 17 June), the two fled from Prato to Bologna in fear of the Black Death, along with Datini's illegitimate daughter, Ginevra. He returned to die a natural death in 1410.
In 1870, five hundred account books and one hundred and fifty thousand papers relating to his business were discovered in a stairwell of the couple's mansion in Prato. These papers provide an insight not only into Francesco's business but also the merchant class in the fourteenth and fifteenth century.
He is buried in the church of San Francesco in Prato. His tomb marble slab was designed by Niccolò di Piero Lamberti. As he had no legitimate or male heirs, he left the bulk of his fortune to a charitable foundation established in his name, the "Casa del Ceppo dei poveri di Francesco di Marco."
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