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Luca Pacioli

Luca Pacioli
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Luca Pacioli

Born: 1445 in Sansepolcro, Italy

Died: 1517 in Sansepolcro, Italy

Luca Pacioli's father was Bartolomeo Pacioli, but Pacioli does not appear to have been brought up in his parents house. He lived as a child with the Befolci family in Sansepolcro which was the town of his birth. This town is very much in the centre of Italy about 60 km north of the city of Perugia. As far as Pacioli was concerned, perhaps the most important feature of this small commercial town was the fact that Piero della Francesca had a studio and workshop in there and della Francesca spent quite some time there despite frequent commissions in other towns

Although we know little of Pacioli's early life, the conjecture that he may have received at least a part of his education in the studio of della Francesca in Sansepolcro must at least have a strong chance of being correct. One reason that this seems likely to be true is the extensive knowledge that Pacioli had of the work of Piero della Francesca and Pacioli's writings were very strongly influenced by those of Piero.

Pacioli moved away from Sansepolcro while he was still a young lad. He moved to Venice to enter the service of the wealthy merchant Antonio Rompiansi whose house was in the highly desirable Giudecca district of that city. One has to assume that Pacioli was already well educated in basic mathematics from studies in Sansepolcro and he certainly must have been well educated generally to have been chosen as a tutor to Rompiansi's three sons. However, Pacioli took the opportunity to continue his mathematical studies at a higher level while in Venice, studying mathematics under Domenico Bragadino. During this time Pacioli gained experience both in teaching, from his role as tutor, and also in business from his role helping with Rompiansi's affairs.

It was during his time in Venice that Pacioli wrote his first work, a book on arithmetic which he dedicated to his employer. This was completed in 1470 probably in the year that Rompiansi died. Pacioli certainly seemed to know all the right people for he left Venice and travelled to Rome where he spent several months living in the house of Leone Battista Alberti who was secretary in the Papal Chancery. As well as being an excellent scholar and mathematician, Alberti was able to provide Pacioli with good religious connections. At this time Pacioli then studied theology and, at some time during the next few years, he became a friar in the Franciscan Order.

In 1477 Pacioli began a life of travelling, spending time at various universities teaching mathematics, particularly arithmetic. He taught at the University of Perugia from 1477 to 1480 and while there he wrote a second work on arithmetic designed for the classes that he was teaching. He taught at Zara (now called Zadar or Jadera in Croatia but at that time in the Venetian Empire) and there wrote a third book on arithmetic. None of the three arithmetic texts were published, and only the one written for the students in Perugia has survived. After Zara, Pacioli taught again at the University of Perugia, then at the University of Naples, then at the University of Rome. Certainly Pacioli become acquainted with the duke of Urbino at some time during this period. Pope Sixtus IV had made Federico da Montefeltro the duke of Urbino in 1474 and Pacioli seems to have spent some time as a tutor to Federico's son Guidobaldo who was to become the last ruling Montefeltro when his father died in 1482. The court at Urbino was a notable centre of culture and Pacioli must have had close contact with it over a number of years.

In 1489, after two years in Rome, Pacioli returned to his home town of Sansepolcro. Not all went smoothly for Pacioli in his home town, however. He had been granted some privileges by the Pope and there was a degree of jealousy among the men from the religious orders in Sansepolcro. In fact Pacioli was banned from teaching there in 1491 but the jealousy seemed to be mixed with a respect for his learning and scholarship for in 1493 he was invited to preach the Lent sermons.

During this time in Sansepolcro, Pacioli worked on one of his most famous books the Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalita which he dedicated to Guidobaldo, the duke of Urbino. Pacioli travelled to Venice in 1494 to publish the Summa. The work gives a summary of the mathematics known at that time although it shows little in the way of original ideas. The work studies arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry and, despite the lack of originality, was to provide a basis for the major progress in mathematics which took place in Europe shortly after this time. As stated in the Summa was:-

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