Latini's French-language Livre du Trésor

Latini's French-language Livre du Trésor, Paris, BnF, Français 568, f. 3r

1 libro in francescho

Three books were stashed away in the ground-floor bedroom of Florentine spice merchant Deo di Vanni’s large home, located in the neighborhood of Santa Maria Maggiore. Although no titles were listed, each volume was identified by its contents. The first was a notated songbook from church; the second, a book “in French”; and the third, a “red book containing philosophy and medicine.” Although books were relatively common items in late fourteenth-century Florentine households, few French-language writings were among them, and Deo’s ownership of such a volume tells us more about the spice merchant’s intellectual life than one might imagine. His choice of reading material suggests that he belonged to a sector of Florentine society that looked beyond the city walls to a more cosmopolitan culture of intellectual exchange, to readers and writers of French from areas as far north as the British Isles and as far east as the former Kingdom of Jerusalem.

From the mid-thirteenth to mid-fifteenth centuries, many Italians read, recopied, and shared texts composed in French, whether they were written by native French speakers or by Italians with proficiency in the language. The works of epic and romance that originated in French-speaking lands were the most common French-language texts exchanged among this class of reader, but non-epic works in this language were also composed by northern Italian writers as well. These included works by well-known authors such as Marco Polo and his writing partner, Rusticano da Pisa, who together composed the Devisement du Monde, as well as Dante’s famous teacher, Brunetto Latini, who wrote the French-language Trésor while in exile in France in the 1260s, a book which he then brought back to Florence upon his return. Although we do not know the title of Deo’s book in French, its presence is a testament to the enduring practice of French-language literary exchange in Italy, and to the spice merchant’s status as a participant in a world of intellectual and cultural exchange that was open to a man of his wealth and profession.