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October 16 2012

Japanese 'sangaku' paintings reveal the sacred side of maths

This image is a stunning example of one of the most intriguing practices in the history of mathematics.

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, the Japanese used to hang up pictures of maths theorems at their shrines.

Called "sangaku", the pictures were both religious offerings and public announcements of the latest discoveries.

It's a little like as if Isaac Newton had decided to hang up his monographs at the local church instead of publishing them in books.

More than 700 sangaku are known to have survived, and the above shape is a detail from the oldest one that exists in its complete form.

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