Oliver Byrne – The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid


Oliver Byrne, a mathematician from the 19th century, used the color scheme for his 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements, which is a mathematical and geometric treatise. This was nearly a century before Piet Mondrian made famous the use of geometrical lines in the colors red, yellow, and blue. Byrne came up with the concept of using color to “diffuse permanent knowledge” and simplify the process of learning. The end product was a book that has been called one of the most beautiful and one of the most peculiar to come out of the 19th century.

As part of TASCHEN’S Bibliotheca Universalis series, the facsimile of Byrne’s vibrant edition is now available for purchase. It is both a work of art and a scientific masterpiece; the boldness of its figures and diagrams in red, yellow, and blue is equally as stunning as the mathematical correctness of its theories in terms of their aesthetic appeal. The vitality of De Stijl and Bauhaus design can be seen in these pages, characterized by the simplicity of their forms and colors. This work was a precursor to the information graphics used to define a significant portion of our data consumption since it made difficult information accessible while simultaneously artistically engaging.