The “accountant” stereotype in the Florentine medieval popular culture: “galantuomini” or usurers?

Matteo Molinari, Jonida Carungu

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This paper explores the stereotype of the accountant in Florentine medieval popular culture based on literary works and from a historical perspective. It aims to highlight how stereotypes change with time and represent the cultural and historical evolution of a society. This research challenges Miley and Read (2012), who stated that the foundation of the stereotype was in Commedia dell'arte, an Italian form of improvisational theatre commenced in the 15th century.

The authors applied a qualitative research method to examine the accountant from a medieval popular culture perspective. The analysis consists of two phases: (1) categorisation of the accountant stereotype based on accounting history literature and (2) thematic analysis of The Divine Comedy (1307–1313) and The Decameron (1348–1351). The authors explored a synchronic perspective of historical investigation through a “cross-author” comparison, identifying Dante Alighieri as the first key author of medieval popular culture. During his imaginary journey through The Divine Comedy, Dante describes the social, political and economic context of the Florentine people of the 14th century. Then, with its various folkloristic elements, The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio becomes the “manifesto” of the popular culture in the Florentine medieval times.

This study shows the change of the accountant stereotype from the medieval age to the Renaissance. The Divine Comedy mainly connotes a negative accountant stereotype. The 14th century's Florentine gentlemen (“i galantuomini”) are apparently positive characters, with an ordered and clean aspect, but they are accused of being usurers. Dante Alighieri pictures the accountant as a “servant of capitalism”, “dishonest person, excessively fixated with money”, “villain and evil” and “excessively rational”. Giovanni Boccaccio mainly portrays a positive accountant stereotype. The accountant is increasingly more reliable, and this “commercial man” takes a more prestigious role in the society. In The Decameron, the accountant is depicted as a “hero”, “gentleman”, “family-oriented person with a high level of work commitment” and “colourful persona, warm, and emotional”. Overall, the authors provided new evidence on the existence of the accountant stereotype in the Florentine medieval popular.

This study engages with accounting history literature accountants' stereotypes in an unexplored context and time period, providing a base for comparative international research on accounting stereotypes and popular culture. Additionally, it addresses the need for further research on the accountant stereotype based on literary works and from a historical perspective. Therefore, this research also expands the New Accounting History (NAH) literature, focussing on the investigation of the accountant stereotype connotations in the 14th century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241
Number of pages270
JournalAccounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2022

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