Leonardo da Vinci mentions money and prices in his notebooks, almost in passing. He tells how much he paid gravediggers, for instance, and how much it costs to have your fortune told.
Leonardo counted money in lire, soldi and dinari:
- 1 lire = 20 soldi
- 1 soldo = 12 dinari
It is one soldo, two soldi.
Like the English pound, shilling and pence, these come from the Roman system of of libra, solidus and denarius. But the money in Italy lost its value far more quickly than in England so that by Leonardo’s time the soldi had pretty much the same value as Shakespeare’s penny.
The coins that Leonardo mentions (with their rough value in metric pennies, which have 0.5 grams of silver):
- ducat (120)
- florin (120)
- Rhenish florin (120)
- scudo (110)
- grossoni (40)
- lire (20)
- carlino (4-8?)
- soldo (1)
- dinari (0.083)
Ducats and florins were two crowns each ($26 in current money) , while a lire was a third of a crown.
The ducat was the gold coin of Venice, just as the florin was the gold coin of Florence. Both had 3.5 grams of gold and were accepted all over Europe. They are called “pieces of gold” in the Grimm stories.
The soldo and lire are silver coins. I put six lire to a florin, but in practice it was not that fixed. You might get anywhere between four to seven lire for a florin, depending on the going rate between silver and gold.
Leonardo generally got paid in ducats and florins. His income went up and down a lot, but in the long run he made about 50 to 100 ducats a year. That is equal to about a painting a year.
At the end of his life Leonardo worked for the king of France, who paid him 400 ducats a year. Compare that to Michelangelo, who got between 200 to 450 ducats for his sculptures.
One ducat was spending money for Leonardo, but for one of his students it was ten days’ pay.
In 1499, just before the fall of Milan, Leonardo had 600 ducats in the bank. In his will he gave his brother 400 ducats.
Some prices from his notebooks (in soldi):
225 a metre of velvet 140 bed 140 ring 120 to bury someone - bier, gravediggers, priests, the works 100 lined doublet 45 crockery 40 cloak 40 jerkin (up to 120) 40 pair of hose (up to 120) 30 for canvas 23 a metre of cloth (for a shirt) 22 gardener 21 sword and knife 20 anise comfits 20 cap 20 glasses 20 lock 18 for paper 16 for gravediggers to bury someone 13 shirt 13 jasper ring 11 sparkling stone 11 what a student of his could make in a day 11 to the barber 6 have your fortune told 5 pair of shoes (up to 14) 4 a dozen laces 3 rent a room for a day 3 melon 1 salad