Painting - Squared Lunes (Hippocrates Of Chios)

The title of this painting refers to Hippocrates of Chios (5th century BC), one of the greatest geometers of antiquity. Classical Greek mathematicians were able to square convex polygons. That is, given a polygon, they could produce a square of equal area in a finite number of steps using only a compass and a straightedge. They were unable to square a circle. This painting is based on the earliest known squaring of a figure bounded by curves rather than straight lines. The mathematician Hippocrates squared a lune, a figure bounded by arcs of two circles with different radii. This achievement might seem more difficult than squaring a circle.
Crockett Johnson's painting follows two annotated figures in Evans G. Valens's The Number of Things (1964), pp. 103–104, a book in the artist’s mathematical library. The finished piece shows isosceles triangles T, and a second congruent triangle connected to it base to base to form a square. Also present in the painting are three lunes, two small and one large. The area of triangle T is equal to the sum of the areas of lunes A and B (see figures). The area of triangle T is also equal to the area of a lune composed of X, Y, and the area T-C. Furthermore, because triangle T is congruent to the triangle below it, triangle T is equal to the area of this lune. Thus, the area of the square is equal to the sum of the areas of the three lunes. In summary, Johnson pictorially represented a "squared" curvilinear region; that is, he successfully constructed a square with the same area as that of the region of three lunes bounded by curves.
Crockett Johnson executed this painting in 4 tints and darker shades of purple upon a black background. The center triangle is the darkest shade of purple. As one moves outward, the colors grow lighter. This allows a dramatic distinction to be seen between the figure and the background, and thus puts a greater emphasis on the lunes.
This oil painting on masonite is #68 in Crockett Johnson's series. Its date of completion is unknown and the work is unsigned. It is closely related to painting #67 (1979.1093.42).
Currently not on view
date made
ca 1965
Hippocrates of Chios
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
overall: 66 cm x 63.5 cm x 2.5 cm; 26 in x 25 in x 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, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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