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 wildflowers and demanding the most painstaking 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
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.