Pioneers of Education: Luca Pacioli

Pioneers of Education: Luca Pacioli

Regarded by many accountants as the father of modern Bookkeeping, Luca Pacioli was a mathematician and Franciscan Friar who famously collaborated with, the far better known, Leonardo da Vinci.

Born 1445 in Tuscany modern Italy, Luca Pacioli would receive a merchant’s education while growing up and learning a head for numbers and arithmetic from a young age. His schooling would have been in the local language at the time and, as the son of a poor family, relatively little was expected of him. However, his talent with numbers was not to be denied and, through his friendship with the Italian artist Piero Della Franscesca, he would gain access to the library of Frederico, County of Urbino, whose collection of over four thousand books would open great possibilities for the humble born Luca.

He would progress from here to become a tutor and educator in his own right in Venice where, at the age of twenty five, he would complete his first written work, a text book for the students he was a tutor for. His Patron, Leon Alberti, a man known for his artistic and linguistic talents amongst others, supported him through these years and even introduced Pacioli to Pope Paul II. He suggested that the young man dedicate his life to God and, following his patron’s death, Luca did indeed follow this wish, becoming a Franciscan Friar.

Moving to Perugia in he continued to advance his personal knowledge and to teach, first as a private teacher, and later to take the chair of Mathematics at the University in the city. He published numerous works of mathematics, but two things distinguished him from many of his peers at the time. Firstly, he published most of his works in the vernacular – that is the common language of the people who read them. This was at a time when Latin was still regarded highly as the language of knowledge and learning. Secondly he emphasized practical applications for his work – something that set him aside from many of his peers.

While many of the dates in Luca’s life are uncertain, one year stands out as certain – 1494, the publication of his most influential book; Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità. A tome of mathematical knowledge, it is most notable for being the first published record of, what became known as, the double entry bookkeeping system that was in use by Venetian Merchants of the age. Double Entry Bookkeeping is the system that still underpins most accounting today and is so called because every entry placed into the accounts must be duplicated elsewhere in the system.

Proving, however, that he wasn’t entirely all about work, maths and upsetting the school children of medieval Italy, Friar Luca was later to write De viribus quantitates a book about the unusual pairing of maths and magic. Containing such useful information as how to juggle, examples of card tricks and how to eat fire, it is also notable for being the first reference to record the famed Leonardo Da Vinci as being left handed.

In a final act of irony, however, the Friar with his accounting system would be forever associated with money. This is because of the phrase “Filthy Lucre” that is sometimes attributed to him, which generally means shameful gain – something that more than a few accountants have been accused of! However, it is also alleged that the phrase appears in the English language a full century before Friar Pacioli was born and is, in fact, derived from the Latin word Lucrum, meaning “profit”.

Regardless of which explanation is true, the world has only profited from the Franscican’s work, with many of the principles he wrote about in the late 1400’s still in use today.

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