You are here

Mathematical Treasure: An Illustrated Commercial Arithmetic

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Libro di Conti di me (My Account Book, 1686, Plimpton MS 235), a commercial arithmetic book, written and illustrated by the Venetian Antonio Venturini, appears to be a fancifully rendered demonstration of an individual’s mathematical knowledge and artistic talent. Most probably, it was drawn and written as a showpiece. The words “scuola Garatti” (“Garatti’s school”) appear at the top of the title page and at the bottom of the second image below (lefthand page), and probably indicate the writer’s teacher of commercial arithmetic rather than his teacher of art.

Title page from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

A bucolic scene adorns the dedication page, which bears the date 1686. The opposite page contains an impressive sum where each addend is a string of digits composed of the first nine counting numbers in their correct order, with the sequences repeated. The author’s intent remains a mystery, as does the creature below, guarding the page. Is it a winged griffin?

Page including sum and drawings from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

A man shakes fruit from a tree and three magic squares float through the scene.

Illustrated magic squares from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

Sea creatures rest on a bed of addition examples.               

Examples of addition from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

Stags gather amid a field of computations.

Computations and drawing of three stags from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

Pig-like elephants inspect a palm tree while, on the opposite page, a fish gazes up at the division problem 42 ÷ 3 ½ = 12. At this point in European history, elephants were exotic and mysterious creatures. Certainly, neither the author nor artist had ever seen an elephant.

Illustrated division problem from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

A rider falls from his horse while around him the “Rule of Simple Composition” is being explained and demonstrated.

"Rule of Simple Composition" from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

At the end of the book, the inscription within the cartouche reminds the reader that Antonio Venturini was the author.

Cartouche with author's name from Libro diConti di Me by Antonio Venturini, 1686

The images above have been obtained through the kind cooperation of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the Columbia University Libraries. These and more images may be accessed via Digital Scriptorium, a digital collection of medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts made available by a consortium of cooperating university libraries headed by the University of California, Berkeley. 

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: An Illustrated Commercial Arithmetic," Convergence (June 2018)

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED