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Formal Beauty

When Euclid meets Mondrian

Byrne. Six Books of Euclid

US$ 59.99
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Nearly a century before Mondrian made geometrical red, yellow, and blue lines famous, 19th-century mathematician Oliver Byrne (c. 1810–c. 1880) employed the color scheme for his 1847 edition of Euclid’s mathematical and geometric treatise Elements. Byrne’s idea was to use color to make learning easier and “diffuse permanent knowledge.” The result has been described as one of the oddest and most beautiful books of the 19th century.

Each proposition is set in Caslon italic, with a four-line initial, while the rest of the page is a unique riot of primary colors. On some pages, letters and numbers only are printed in colour, sprinkled over the pages like tiny wild flowers and demanding the most meticulous alignment of different color plates for printing.

This book presents a meticulous facsimile of Byrne’s vivid publication. A masterwork of art and science, it is as beautiful in the boldness of its red, yellow, and blue figures and diagrams as it is in the mathematical precision of its theories. In the simplicity of forms and colors, the pages anticipate the vigor of De Stijl and Bauhaus design. In making complex information at once accessible and aesthetically engaging, this work is a forerunner to the information graphics that today define much of our data consumption.

Tadao Ando

“Turning the black fabric cover, I found rows of equations and diagrams of primitive geometry continuing across every page of the five-centimeter-thick volume. It is a serious text of mathematics as its title suggests, but to me it is more beautiful than any of the art books that had been on display in that store. What I had found in its pages was definitive proof of the existence of a precious power held by humans that we call Reason.”
Tadao Ando
Illustration: Robert Nippoldt