Painting - Squared Lunes (Hippocrates Of Chios)

<< >>
Classical Greek mathematicians were able to square all convex polygons. That is, given any polygon, they could produce a square of equal area in a finite number of steps using only a compass and a straight edge. Figures with curved sides proved more difficult. However, as this painting suggests, the mathematician Hippocrates of Chios (5th century BC) squared a lune, a figure bounded by arcs of two circle with different radii (lunes resemble quarter moons, hence the name). Finding the area of a lune in terms of a square might seem more difficult than squaring a circle, but the latter problem would prove intractable.
The painting follows annotated figures in Evans G. Valens's The Number of Things (1964), p.103, which was part of Crockett Johnson's mathematical library. It corresponds to an early diagram in Valens's discussion of squaring the circle. According to Valens, Hippocrates began by arguing that the areas of similar segments of different circles are in the same ratio as the squares of their bases. Suppose an isosceles right triangle is inscribed in a semicircle of diameter c. Construct smaller semicircles of diameter a and b on the sides of the inscribed triangle. As the square of a plus the square of b equals the square of c, the area of the two smaller semicircles equals that of the large one. The proof goes on to consider the area of the two crescents and the triangle.
In this version of Squared Lunes Crockett Johnson uses brown, black, red, and white against a gray background. This oil painting is #67 in the series, and the first in the series with the title "Squared Lunes." It was completed in 1968 and is signed: CJ68. It is inscribed on the back: SQUARED LUNES (/) (HIIPPOCRATES OF CHIOS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1968. A related painting is #68 (1979.1093.43).
Currently not on view
date made
Hippocrates of Chios
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 38.2 cm x 62.5 cm x 3.2 cm; 15 1/16 in x 24 5/8 in x 1 1/4 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Ruth Krauss in memory of Crockett Johnson
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
Data Source
National Museum of American History


Add a comment about this object