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Mathematical Treasure: Medieval Depictions of Tools of Measurement

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

Gautier de Metz was a 13th-century French priest and poet, who is frequently credited as the author of the poem L’Image du monde (c. 1245).  This poem covers a wide range of topics, including theology, cosmology, astrology, physics, astronomy, and geography.

A 15th-century manuscript of L’Image du Monde (Harley MS 334) contains illustrations of the seven liberal arts. Geometry is depicted on folio 25 holding a set square and dividers:

Image of "Geometry" from 15th century manuscript of L'Image du monde by Gautier de Metz

On folio 3 of another 15th-century manuscript (Royal 20 MS B XX), a group of clerks are depicted taking astronomical and terrestrial measurements. In this manuscript illustration, the men employ an armillary sphere, a set square, and a large divider-like device used to measure length:

15th century manuscript illustration of clerks using an armillary sphere, a set square and a divider.

A manuscript from early 15th century England (Harley MS 2332) contains a wide variety of tables.  On folio 21v of the almanac is a drawing of a balance and weights, together with a table which hypothetically might be used in computing the price of a given quantity of bread or wheat:

A 15th century manuscript illustration of a balance and weights, together with a table that possibly might be used for pricing bread and/or wheat.

The images above were obtained through the courtesy of the British Library. Further investigation of the images and their sources can be obtained through the online services of the British Library. Where possible, manuscript reference numbers are given for the item being viewed.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Index to Mathematical Objects

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Medieval Depictions of Tools of Measurement," Convergence (January 2020)

Dummy View - NOT TO BE DELETED