Linda Hall Library

Linda Hall Library

Linda Hall Library

Linda Hall Library

Linda Hall Library

Oronce Fine, a French mathematician, was born Dec. 20, 1494. Fine was a very talented fellow, since he not only edited and printed classics of mathematics and astronomy, such as the works of Euclid and Sacrobosco, but he also wrote his own treatises on cosmography, and illustrated them with his own woodcut illustrations. In addition, he constructed several world maps that were widely reprinted.

We do not have any of Fine’s maps in our collection, but we do have four of his publications, including De mundi sphaera, sive Cosmographia (1542), which is one of the most attractive books printed in the Renaissance.  Part of the credit goes to the printer, Simon Colines, whose typefaces and dingbats are beautiful, but Fine deserves praise as well, for he designed all the woodcuts.  He designed the title-page border, showing the four arts of the quadrivium in the four corners, for an earlier book, and reused it here (second image).  One of the most stunning woodcuts is the frontispiece that Fine designed (first image), which shows a large armillary-like world system in the center, and Fine himself at bottom right, receiving instructions from Urania, the muse of Astronomy.  A detail of the top (third image) brings out an unusual feature of Fine’s woodcutting style: the “criblé” background of the night sky, a stipple effect that Fine perfected, where a metal tool is punched into the woodblock numerous times to produce tiny dots of white. Many of the initials and smaller text illustrations use the criblé technique as well (fourth image).

Fine was the regius professor of mathematics at the new Collége Royal, founded by Francis I of France, where Fine taught until his death. One of the few portraits we have of him is the one on the frontispiece of De mundi sphaera (fifth image).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.