From the Closet to the Wallet: Pawning Clothes in Renaissance Italy

From the Closet to the Wallet: Pawning Clothes in Renaissance Italy

By Maria Giuseppina Muzzarelli

Renaissance and Reformation, Volume 35, Number 3, 2012

A ‘Contadina’, female Italian peasant. Credit: Wellcome Library.

Introduction: The Italian monti di pietà emerged in the second half of the fifteenth century to provide small sums of money lent on pawn to individuals who could not pay the high interest rates set by Jewish or Christian private bankers. In towns and cities across central and northern Italy, monti di pietà organized themselves according to similar standardized sets of rules that were adapted to the peculiar conditions of different local situations.

These rules were not very different from those of the private banks. The principal differences were that in theory — if not always in practice — the monti di pietà lent only to private citizens at a very low interest rate (usually around 5 percent), and served only the moderately poor (as opposed to the indigent). The statutes of the Monte di Pietà of Reggio Emilia (founded in 1494) expressed this succinctly:

‘There should be lending only to those people who come to borrow because of their need and necessities, intending one per family … and those persons must clarify openly whether they want it for themselves or for another, and [then] declare whom, and they are also obligated to swear that they wish it for their own use and for their necessities. Beyond this, if you lend and if someone takes it to invest or to trade or make other superfluous or indecent purchases, then they must lose their pawn.’

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