34. Earliest autograph letter penned by Margherita Datini, wife of Francesco di Marco Datini, to her husband.

Archivio di Stato di Prato: Datini
cod. 9302781, busta 1089/1
SENDER: Margherita Datini
ADDRESSEE: Francesco di Marco Datini
GENERAL INFORMATION: Dated 20 February 1388.

This is considered to be Margherita Datini’s earliest autograph letter. It is one of the nearly 270 letters that she wrote between 1384 and 1418, which go to make up the largest group of letters in the vernacular by a lay woman in the late fourteenth century. The great majority of Margherita’s letters are addressed to her husband Francesco (253), but there are also some for relatives, family friends, service personnel and employees of the Datini companies. They were usually written by dictating the text to the young apprentices in the Datini offices. This one, however, is remarkable as it shows Margherita’s personal effort to combine graphic competence and expressive capacity, despite – or maybe one should say because of – its execution in a very basic, semi-literate handwriting with a mise-en-page which is a poor attempt to follow the formal canons of the merchant’s letter.

(Chiara Marcheschi)