Painting -Hippias' Curve

This painting is a construction of Crockett Johnson, relating to a curve attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Hippias. This was one of the first curves, other than the straight line and the circle, to be studied by mathematicians. None of Hippias's original writings survive, and the curve is relatively little known today. Crockett Johnson may well have followed the description of the curve given by Petr Beckmann in his book The History of Pi (1970). Crockett Johnson's copy of Beckmann’s book has some light pencil marks on his illustration of the theorem on page 39 (see figure).
Hippias envisioned a curve generated by two motions. In Crockett Johnson's own drawing, a line segment equal to OB is supposed to move uniformly leftward across the page, generating a series of equally spaced vertical line segments. OB also rotates uniformly about the point O, forming the circular arc BQA. The points of intersection of the vertical lines and the arc are points on Hippias's curve. Assuming that the radius OK has a length equal to the square root of pi, the square AOB (the surface of the painting) has area equal to pi. Moreover, the height of triangle ASO, OS, is √(4 / pi), so that the area of triangle ASO is 1.
The painting has a gray border and a wood and metal frame. The sections of the square and of the regions under Hippias's curve are painted in various pastel shades, ordered after the order of a color wheel.
This oil painting is #114 in the series. It is signed on the back: HIPPIAS' CURVE (/) SQUARE AREA = (/) TRIANGLE " = 1 = [ . .] (/) Crockett Johnson 1973.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Johnson, Crockett
Physical Description
masonite (substrate material)
wood (frame material)
metal (frame material)
overall: 83.2 cm x 83.2 cm x 3.1 cm; 32 3/4 in x 32 3/4 in x 1 1/4 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Crockett Johnson
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Ruth Krauss in memory of Crockett Johnson
Additional Media

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