The powerful and influential Medici Family was first self-supporting as cloth and textile merchants. In the fifteenth century they established the Medici Bank, which became the largest and most respected in all of Europe.
A large part of its success was due to the pioneering use of double entry book keeping. This method of tracking debit and credit was, in part, what made the Medici banking ventures so extraordinarily successful, so much so that this family became the wealthiest and most influential in Europe, despite having no claims to royalty.
Double entry book-keeping is a method of tracking money and credit that requires each transaction to be recorded twice, usually side by side in two columns. One column is labeled credit and the other, debit. These two sides must “balance” to make sure that each expense or income is accounted for.
We used to do this when we balanced our check books. For most people this is now done automatically by their bank and can be seen in their account history.
Essentially, this method is an error detection tool. If you look in your account and you have less or more money than you ought to after a transaction, you can check both your incoming and outgoing amounts. When you find the discrepancy, this double entry method can, in most cases, help you locate the “missing” money or find out where the “extra” came from.
Through their wealth and family influence, the Medici family funded the invention of the piano and its ancestors, opera, and eventually ballet, as well as supporting exploration and expansion of every kind of art. They played a large part in the education and advancement of the sculptor and painter Michelangelo.
They were so powerful and influential that Catherine de Medici was married to a French prince, despite having no royal blood. It was her family’s money that led to the throne. Her passion for art and display led to the creation of Court Dance, the grandmother of ballet as we know it today.
The great courts of Europe used their wealth to display their power. Some of Catherine’s entertainments cost today’s equivalent of several million dollars, from the purchase of rare edibles, the design and creation of elaborate mechanical set pieces, and the display of exotic animals, to the training and rehearsing of hundreds of dancers and musicians.
I’m not sure how well balanced the royal accounts were during this opulent period, though of course this gross display of wealth was in part what led to revolution, but Catherine’s creativity and organizational skills would have been handed down to her along with the resources of both her family and her royal in laws.
It’s a round-about way of getting to it, but that is how the art of tracking expenses led to the birth of ballet. I know we artists aren’t always number lovers, but lets give our accountant and banking friends a round of applause.