Geometric Art & Design History | Geometric Prints

Geometric Art History


In terms of geometric prints I'm writing this article to give a very brief introduction to some of the history of geometric art, design and its antiquity. To write thoroughly an exhaustive 1,000+ page book could be written about the very large amount of artists, geometric art influences and large body of work pertaining to this topic. I'm by no means an expert and I'm influenced in my own work by geometry, geometric art & design and fascinated by its creation throughout cultural history spanning thousands of years.

To understand geometry applied to art, architecture, design, computer science, mosaics, fashion patterns (textiles) and the myriad of reproduced geometric prints we first need to go back to square one, Summer. The Sumerian civilisation of present-day southern Iraq (ancient Mesopotamia) dates to around 4000 BC. Experts agree Babylonian mathematics dates to between 5000 - 3000 BC and was scribed on cuneiform clay tablets. Cuneiform is one of, if not the first written system. Mathematics and the cuneiform writing system are some of the first ancient examples of geometry in use. 

Cuneiform Geometry Problems
Cuneiform Geometry Problems



The Great Pyramid of Giza |  Babylonian Sculpture
Geometry Mesopotamia Geometric Prints


Mathematics was used in Summer and based on a sexagesimal number system. Egyptians used maths for surveying & building, taxing the public for cooking oil & astronomy. Geometry in Greece came later (300 BC) and its maths still in use today was used by and in some cases created by well known mathematicians Euclid, phi by representing the golden ratio/mean between 325- 265 BC (Euclidean geometry), Pythagoras (Pythagoras Theorem), AristotleArchimedes and others. The Fibonacci Sequence having  a strong relationship to the golden mean became prominent from 1202 & It was named after Italian mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, later posthumously known as Fibonacci (1170 – 1250). It was first used  by Pingala and in Indian mathematics, however Fibonacci was the first to introduce the mathematical sequence to European cultures in his book Liber Abaci. The Fibonacci sequence while being used in Mathematics was later in time more broadly applied to art, design and used for determining divine proportions.


The Fibonacci Sequence
Golden Ratio - Fibonacci



The greeks were one of the first civilisations to use geometry & broadly apply geometric principles to sculpture, textiles & in terms of this article more traditional art-forms including decorative art & painting. Early Greek art (Classical period) was in the form of sculptures, clay pottery, paintings and architecture which focused on religion and the Gods. The Greeks were well known for creating art based on the accurate representation of the human figure. Hellenistic art visualised the ideal, human form and expression which came after Alexander's death in 323 BC. In ancient history geometry was applied to numeric systems, architecture (pyramids), calendars, astronomy and mathematics. Greek geometric art peaked  between 900 BC – 700 BC during the greek dark ages (geometric period) and Greece's cultural epicentre was Athens. 

Geometric art was originally created as decorative abstract patterns or in some cases used symbolism. Later motifs adjoined Greek allegories and paintings of culturally significant events. Early geometric art was decorative however directly related to the peoples culture of the time and places they lived. This is shown throughout Greece's rich cultural history and within other civilisations.


In Mesoamerica (Olmec, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Zapotec, Maya, Aztec, Mixtec) geometry and math was also applied. Similar to parts of the east it was ingrained in their religious beliefs, pyramids (architecture), astronomical systems, rituals, calendars and people's everyday lives. This is why geometric symbols, motifs (patterns) were used to create beautiful art and design. 


Temple - Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Geometric Mayan Temple



Greek Geometric Artwork & Pottery
Greek Geometric Prints



Persian or Iranian (Iran pronounced "eh-rarn", not "I-Ran") geometric art (Islamic) was aesthetically more complex than greek work and more indicative of pure geometric design and geometric aesthetics. Persian art is brilliantly executed and quite pleasing to the eye. Some early pottery from the Uruk Persian period dates to 4000 - 3000 BC. Persian artwork and geometric patterns were commonly used architecturally in Mosques along with other art and design based mediums. M.C.Escher (Netherlands - 1898-1972) was known to have been inspired by Persian & Islamic geometric art/patterns and math, although not a competent mathematician or advanced in his mathematics learning. Disappointingly M.C.Escher's work was shunned by the art world and he was widely known as a graphic artist or illustrator and his work was never considered to be of great value by the art critics. Over time and during the 1950's-1960's his work became quite popular and celebrated by mathematicians and drew interest from thought leaders. M.C.Escher's work was mainly created by the means of wood cut illustrations & drawings that came as lithographic prints. Escher was also widely known as a printmaker. His work can also be considered op art (optical art) based on optical illusions. Although his work is quite incredible Escher never considered himself an artist and struggled with the term, he considered it a somewhat pretentious term that he didn't relate to. (M.C.Escher Scientific American)


 Day & Night - Maurits Cornelis Escher (Woodcut Print)

MC Escher - Day and Night (1938) Woodcut Prints


The time spans in which geometric artwork was created covers incredibly long periods of time across multiple civilisations, even until its present day creation. Pablo Picasso (Spain 1881-1973) once famously said "good artists copy, great artists steal" in reference to this quote there are traces of cross cultural influences & knowledge transfer during ancient and modern art periods. Picasso and Amedeo Modigliani (Italy 1884-1920) were known to have been influenced and inspired by earlier Cycladic work (hand carved figures 3300 BC) during Picasso's famous cubist period (1909 to 1912).


Cycladic Sculpture (Aegean Cyclades - Early Greek Pre-history)
Cycladic Art Work Greek Agean - 3200 BC



Pablo Picasso Pictured with Cubist Geometric Artwork

Pablo Picasso & Cubist Artwork



Persian Mosque: Persian Geometric Art
Muslem Geometric Prints



Gutenberg Printing Press

The first type of printing was the Chinese woodblock (601 - 700 AD) of the Tang Dynasty and metal type was also used initially in China. In 1439 the first modern form of printing press in Europe known as "Gutenberg" printing press was created by Johannes Gutenberg. It is largely attributed as the first means of mass producing books affordably in Europe. While not the first type of printing used it was the first printing press invented in Europe & used movable metal type. Compared to earlier Chinese woodblock printing it was an improved technology. Books could be created cheaply and more quickly than other printing methods. As the German Gutenberg became more widely used it allowed the Renaissance to spread across countries in Europe. The Gutenberg printing press was used to create the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg printing press was incredibly important historically & in terms of modern publishing and printing. In time it was proceeded by other forms of printing including industrialised offset-lithography and digital printing. 

Gutenberg Bible

the Gutenberg Bible 



A-format paper is not based on the golden ratio and is sometimes confused as being used for its design. Designers and artists tend to think this way, that our work, materials and methods are in someway divinely inspired, needless to say in the early stages of ones career it's anything but true. A format paper is based on The Lichtenberg Ratio 1: 1.4142 (18th Century) whereby each paper size is one half of the area of the next increase in paper size. The standardised ISO 216 (A format) paper system is based on this ratio. The Lichtenberg Ratios use with paper format design in publishing was logical along with being economically practical. The aspect ratio is always retained when scaling up or down in A-Format sized paper. For book publishing a B, C, Royal, Trade Paperback (TPB) or Demy (pronounced deny) format can be used as some theorists believed A format wasn't an ideal size for books, being too tall and narrow.


During the Renaissance (french term meaning rebirth) period across Europe between 1400 - 1700 Leonardo da Vinci (1452 –1519) the world renowned Italian created artwork (some geometric) and was inspired by geometry, mathematics along with other disciplines including science and engineering. Michelangelo also Italian born (1475 – 1564) during the same period was inspired by the golden ratio in his work including within the Sistine Chapel. While some geometric art is easily perceived to be geometric-based work, some artists like Michelangelo & Leonardo da Vinci applied geometric principles to art sometimes in much more subtle ways, not noticeable to the eye, through the structural use of grids, geometric lines and forms, sometimes forming the base outline of their paintings.


The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper By Leonardo da Vinci


Red Chalk Self Portrait & Vitruvian Man  - Leonardo da Vinci 
Leonardo da Vinci Geometric Prints


Mona Lisa - Leonardo da Vinci 
Mona Lisa Sacred Geometry



Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel - (Painting & Sculptures)
Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo Geometry

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