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Portrait of Luca Pacioli

Portrait of Luca Pacioli
ArtistAttributed to Jacopo de' Barbari
Yearc. 1495–1500
MediumTempera on panel
Dimensions99 cm × 120 cm (39 in × 47 in)
LocationCapodimonte Museum, Naples

The Portrait of Luca Pacioli is a painting attributed to the Italian Renaissance artist Jacopo de' Barbari, dating to around 1500 and housed in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples, southern Italy.


The painting, which portrays the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli, is mentioned for the first time in a 1631 inventory of the Ducal Palace of Urbino.

It was later moved to Florence through Vittoria della Rovere-Medici, belonging to both the reigning dynasties of Urbino and Tuscany. The painting reappeared in the 19th century, as a property of the Ottaviano branch of the Medicis. It was subsequently acquired by the Italian state to prevent its being sold to England.[citation needed]


The painting has been generally attributed to Jacopo de' Barbari due to the presence of a cartouche with the inscription IACO.BAR. VIGENNIS. P. 1495. However, the attribution to the Venetian painter has been questioned.[1] Some attribute the painting to Leonardo da Vinci, who began collaborating with Pacioli when the latter moved to Milan in 1496.[1][2] For the next two years,[3] Leonardo illustrated Archimedean solids, including the rhombicuboctahedron, in Pacioli's Divina proportione (1509).[4] According to one scholar, in the rhombicuboctahedron featured in the portrait "we surely see the ineffable left hand of Leonardo da Vinci, who drew the superb pictures for De divina proportione, which, moreover, hang from a string in the originals."[3] The same source points out that the dodecahedron in the portrait seems to be drawn by a less-skilled hand, implying that the portrait was created over multiple sittings and possibly by more than one artist.[3]


The painting portrays the friar and mathematician with a table filled with geometrical tools: slate, chalk, compass, a dodecahedron model. A rhombicuboctahedron, half-filled with water and characterized by a detailed triple reflection effect of the Ducal Palace of Urbino, is suspended from the ceiling. Pacioli is demonstrating a theorem by Euclid written in an open book. The closed book, with the inscription LI.RI.LUC.BUR. ('Liber reverendi Luca Burgensis') is supposed to be his Summa de arithmetica, geometria. Proportioni et proportionalita (Summary of arithmetic, geometry, proportions and proportionality, 1494).[5]

The person on the right has not been identified conclusively; he could be the German painter Albrecht Dürer, whom Barbari met between 1495 and 1500.[5][3] As early as 1495, Barbari led Dürer to Pacioli's mathematical work relevant to art. Dürer also likely met Pacioli in Bologna between 1505 and 1507, writing in October 1506 that he planned to ride from Venice "to Bologna to learn the secrets of the art of perspective which a man is willing to teach me."[3][2] Pacioli could have showed him Piero's De Prospectiva pingendi, as some of Dürer's drawings are similar,[3] but Dürer may have also simply encountered Piero's work (and Pacioli himself) by way of Pacioli's book Divina proportione (composed 1498–1509), forming another link between him and Leonardo da Vinci.[3]

The figure on the right has also been identified as Guidobaldo da Montefeltro (the then Duke of Urbino who was a fervent scholar of mathematics and to whom the Summa was dedicated),[6][7] Francesco di Bartolomeo Archinto (of whom a very similar portrait of Leonardesque school exists in the National Gallery, London),[8] and Galéas de Saint-Séverin.[9]


  1. ^ a b "ritratto Pacioli". (in Italian).
  2. ^ a b Livio, Mario (2003) [2002]. The Golden Ratio: The Story of Phi, the World's Most Astonishing Number (First trade paperback ed.). New York City: Broadway Books. pp. 130–131, 138. ISBN 0-7679-0816-3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g MacKinnon, Nick (1993). "The Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli". The Mathematical Gazette. 77 (479): 140–43, 146–49, 154, 165, 183, 184, 186–87, 197–205, 214. doi:10.2307/3619717.
  4. ^ Bo, Gianfranco. "Il sorriso di Pacioli". (in Italian).
  5. ^ a b Serras, Herman. "Mathematics on the "Ritratto di Frà Luca Pacioli"".
  6. ^ MacKinnon, Nick (1993). "The Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli". The Mathematical Gazette. 77 (479): 179. doi:10.2307/3619717.
  7. ^ Guidobaldo web page Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Hevelius' webzine".
  9. ^ Glori, Carla. "Osservando il quadro di Capodimonte: nuove ipotesi per gli enigmi del ritratto di Luca Pacioli", (published in the book Luca Pacioli tra Piero della Francesca e Leonardo, ed. Stefano Zuffi, Marsilio Editore, Venice, 2017)

External links