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In Fortune's Theater
Financial Risk and the Future in Renaissance Italy


  • Date Published: July 2021
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108843881

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About the Authors
  • This innovative cultural history of financial risk-taking in Renaissance Italy argues that a new concept of the future as unknown and unknowable emerged in Italian society between the mid-fifteenth and mid-sixteenth centuries. Exploring the rich interchanges between mercantile and intellectual cultures underpinning this development in four major cities - Florence, Genoa, Venice, and Milan - Nicholas Scott Baker examines how merchants and gamblers, the futurologists of the pre-modern world, understood and experienced their own risk taking and that of others. Drawing on extensive archival research, this study demonstrates that while the Renaissance did not create the modern sense of time, it constructed the foundations on which it could develop. The new conceptions of the past and the future that developed in the Renaissance provided the pattern for the later construction a single narrative beginning in classical antiquity stretching to the now. This book thus makes an important contribution toward laying bare the historical contingency of a sense of time that continues to structure our world in profound ways.

    • Provides a new way of thinking about a period that has been largely understood as oriented toward the past
    • Traces an important shift in early modern European thinking about chance, Providence, and human action
    • Interweaves a wide variety of archival, textual, and visual sources to offer a new perspective on the economic, social and cultural history of Renaissance Italy.
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Drawing on gamblers' cards and dice, merchants' ledgers and letters, artists' canvases, and humanists' treatises, Baker recaptures Renaissance Italians' evolving view of the future. Day-to-day uncertainty and unpredictability was financially threatening but culturally liberating. Vividly written, innovative, and utterly persuasive, In Fortune's Theater is the new model for tracing the social roots of intellectual change.' Nicholas Terpstra, author of Religious Refugees in the Early Modern World

    'An impressive account of conceptual change in early modern Italy. By close analysis of evidence ranging from books on gambling and insurance to merchant letters and humanist writings, Nicholas Scott Baker recalibrates concepts of time, fortune, and the future to describe an unpredictable and risky new world.' Alison Brown, author of Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici and the Crisis of Renaissance Italy

    'How did Renaissance Italians understand the future? This simple yet striking question is at the heart of Nicholas Scott Baker's intriguing new book … [which] creates a fresh synthesis by making connections between phenomena not often pictured together.' Suzanne Sutherland, H-Net (H-Italy)

    'Combining an intellectual history of ideas with a cultural-anthropological analysis of everyday life, Baker succeeds in showing how complex ideas and thought processes, like the slow germination of the concept of the unknown and unknowable future, interacted, in a reciprocal way, with the daily exchanges of commerce and gambling.' Michele lodone, Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Reforme

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2021
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108843881
    • length: 320 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: Histories of the Future
    1. Experts in Futurity
    2. The Future in Play
    3. Trust in the Future
    4. The Mercantile Vocabulary of Futurity in the Sixteenth Century
    5. The Renaissance Afterlife of Boethius's Allegory of Fortuna
    6. The Emerging of a New Allegory in Mercantile Culture
    7. The Shifting Image of Fortuna
    8. The Separation of Fortuna and Providence
    Conclusion: Time and the Renaissance.

  • Author

    Nicholas Scott Baker, Macquarie University
    Nicholas Scott Baker is Associate Professor of History at Macquarie University. He is the author of The Fruit of Liberty: Political Culture in the Florentine Renaissance, 1480–1550 (2013), several articles and book chapters, and co-editor of two volumes of essays on Italian Renaissance society and culture.

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