The Italian Almanac

playing chess

Italian News - December 28

A long-lost manuscript on the art of chess by celebrated Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli has been discovered in a villa in northeast Italy. The 48-page work, believed to have been written by Pacioli around 1500, turned up in the library of Gorizia's historic Palazzo Coronini Cronberg. It was found by Italian book expert Duilio Contin while recently sifting through a collection of ancient manuscripts and volumes owned by the last count of Coronini, Guglielmo, who died in 1990.

Pacioli's manuscript, entitled De ludo scacchorum (On the game of chess), was dedicated to Isabella d'Este, the wife of Mantua ruler Francesco Gonzaga. Although the document is cited in other works on the game from the same period, it was believed to have been permanently lost. Instead, it was included in a batch of precious books and manuscripts acquired by Guglielmo Coronini in Venice in 1963.

The manuscript contains numerous illustrations explaining the game and strategies, with the chess pieces finely drawn in red and black ink and excellently preserved. Experts who have already examined the work have confirmed Pacioli's authorship. Pacioli was born in 1445 in the Tuscan town of San Sepolcro and died in Venice in 1517. He entered the Franciscan order in 1470 after studying theology.

A master in arithmetic and algebra, Pacioli travelled around Italy teaching, at one point tutoring Leonardo da Vinci in mathematics in Milan. Pacioli went on to collaborate with the Renaissance artist and inventor on a number of projects. In 1499, Pacioli and da Vinci fled Milan together after Louis XII of France seized the city and drove out their patron, Lodovico Sforza.

Pacioli wrote several works including Summa de arithmetica, geometrica, proportioni et proportionalita (1494), a summary of the mathematical knowledge of his time which also includes the first published description of the bookkeeping methods used by Venetian merchants and known as the double-entry accounting system. Although Pacioli only codified the system rather than creating it, the book still led to him being credited as the father of accounting.