Printing Euclid, Part 2

In the next instalment of our experiment we began to consider the issue of illustrations. As we sat down to take a stab (rather literally) at the Pythagorean diagram, it soon became obvious just how difficult it must have been to print relief drawings with intersecting lines.

Using linoleum rather than wood for our trial, and lacking the fine skills of an experienced woodcut artist, this seemed an almost impossible task. However one need only to consider Albrecht Dürer’s Rhinoceros (1515), or to give more geometric examples, Renaissance architect Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural illustrations (e.g. in Regole generali di architetvra, 1537) to realise that great precision in woodcutting is indeed possible. But the cost of producing the 400-odd diagrams in Euclid’s Elements by this method would necessarily have been high, making the economics of mathematical printing this period something of a puzzle.

Pythagorean diagram