Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Goodbye to My Friend Pacioli

Academic journal article The Accounting Historians Journal

Goodbye to My Friend Pacioli

Article excerpt

I studied accountancy without ever hearing about him. I would have liked to have heard the lecturer, leaving off--for a time--the doctoral tone he employed for teaching debits and credits, to look into the life of this forerunner of accountants and to talk to him about his work. But it is a safe bet that he himself did not know of the existence of one who was later to be called the Father of Accounting.

The last World War (1940-1944 in Belgium) gave me some leisure, a physical infirmity in the right eye preventing me from serving my country by bearing arms. I took advantage of this situation to study accounting and history in depth, and finally, the history o accounting. It was then that I made acquaintance with this venerable ancestor of ours.

After hostilities were over, I met Robert Haulotte, who was also very interested in accounting history. We had numerous telephone conversations in the evening about a series of articles we were writing together (Galerie des grands auteurs comptables). Eventually, those conversations led to a commitment to publish a book on Luca Pacioli which compelled us to study closely his lie and his work on accounting.

Later on, I became acquainted with a painter who had translated Pacioli's Divina Proportione into French. This Frenchwoman--Mademoiselle Sarrade--was also fond, like us, of this genial precursor and we therefore exchanged many letters on this subject.

Now, both of my correspondents on Pacioli are gone. Mademoiselle Sarrade died January 8th, 1987 and Robert Haulotte on October 6th the same year. I alone remain of the three to celebrate the fifth century of the publication of Pacioli's Summa de Arithmetica.

From the notes I have amassed, some coming directly from both of the above-mentioned friends, I should like to recall the man who was Luca Pacioli from Borgo San Sepolcro, a Franciscan monk of the second half of the 15th century.

Having familiarized myself with him for nearly 50 years via his works, be seems like a friend to me. Somehow, it seems to me that I have met him ... with his enthusiasms and his intransigences, his assurance of being the apostle of a good cause, the care he took to detail before us his works and his labors, taking into account his corroborations in order to prove the veracity of his assertions. All of this from a simple detour taken in a mathematical demonstration, with a poignant ingeniousness.

His physical appearance is known to us by three good portraits. The first two, owed to the brush of the great painter, Piero della Francesca born himself at Borgo San Sepolcro some thirty years before Luca, portray him at about age 30. The salient features are those of a young monk, serious and meditative, his inward glance that of one who pursues in himself his own reflections.

First, there is the painting, "Pale Urbinate," now at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, representing "La Madonna col Bambino Gesu" and the donor, Frederic di Montefeltro, kneeling before her. Ten other personages form a circle behind this group, and Luca Pacioli is the second from the right. In the second painting, "Virgin, Child and Saints," Luca Pacioli is on the left with a book in his hands. Formerly at the Church of Sant' Antonio in Perugia, this painting is now in that city's art gallery.

The third portrait is still more striking. The artists of this remarkable work remains unknown--despite the flood of ink speculation it has caused and a signature difficult to interpret.

Pacioli is around 50 years old and presents himself with the authority of a mathematical demonstration. Square face, firm chin, straight look, with a wave of the hand, he is the evocative expression of confidence. In fact, all we know from Luca's own pen, on his life and work, introduce us to a man who cannot conceive of being in doubt.

He directed his life between two roads on which, in his mind, he travelled at the same speed. He is a monk, with the certitude conferred by faith. …

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