Francesco Datini, Merchant of Prato

By Will Schutt

It was a religious age in love with transgression.
—Tim Parks, Medici Money

Money was the weather he went out in
in his robe of madder root.

On a priest’s suggestion he paid for a painting
of St. Christopher above his front door.

In a back room he hung his own portrait
conducting orphans to the Virgin Mother.

He lost both parents to the Black Plague
and built his capital in Avignon

selling arms to emperors and art to clerics.
He skipped his guardian’s funeral

but was relieved to know she’d died
with “a sufficiency of candles.”

To his young wife he wrote, “It is needful
to comfort the afflicted.” About a slave:

“I shall always consider her merchandise
on which one sometimes loses and sometimes gains.”

Like every trader of note,
he led a private life in a public age.

On Sundays, when he’d enlist his wife
to hide his books under the staircase,

a couple of ex-cons would shave
their skulls, bind their hands, and, for sport,

head-butt a cat nailed to a post
in the square, to the sound of trumpets.