Mathematics Educators Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those involved in the field of teaching mathematics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

There are many examples of artistic works which have some mathematical aspects. A high school or undergraduate math teacher can use them as interesting examples in his/her teaching. e.g. In a combinatorics course when a teacher introduces the notion of a magic square, he/she can add examples form paintings and literature as follows:

(1) Albrecht Dürer's magic square in his famous painting Melancolia I

enter image description here

(2) Goethe's description of a magic square in Faust:

$$ \begin{array}{l|l} \text{Du musst verstehen!} & \text{You shall see, then! } \\ \text{Aus Eins mach Zehn,} & \text{From one make ten!} \\ \text{Und Zwei lass gehen,} & \text{Let two go again,} \\ \text{Und Drei mach gleich} & \text{Make three even,} \\ \text{So bist du reich.} & \text{You’re rich again.} \\ \text{Verlier die Vier!} & \text{Take away four! } \\ \text{Aus Fünf und Sechs,} & \text{From five and six,} \\ \text{So sagt die Hex,} & \text{So says the Witch,} \\ \text{Mach Sieben und Acht,} & \text{Make seven and eight,} \\ \text{So ist's vollbracht:} & \text{So it’s full weight:} \\ \text{Und Neun ist Eins,} & \text{And nine is one, } \\ \text{Und Zehn ist keins.} & \text{And ten is none.} \\ \text{Das ist das Hexen-Einmaleins!} & \text{This is the Witch’s one-times-one!} \\ \end{array}$$ (See Faust, line 2540.)

Note that the above phrases are describing a magic square as follows:

enter image description here

Question: What are interesting examples of using mathematical notions in arts which are useful to introduce these notions to students at high school/undergraduate level?

share|improve this question
I remember seeing an interesting picture of the $3$-adic disk interpreted in Koblitz's book on $p$-adic numbers: This is not really a subject broached by high school or (in general) undergraduate students, and I can't speak to the image's pedagogical value (hence the mere comment). – Benjamin Dickman Aug 1 '14 at 3:03
I'm reading Remmert's Theory of Complex Functions. I have no picture, but, it is an art. Math, good math, is art. (someday, I want to be an artist) – James S. Cook Aug 1 '14 at 4:24
@JamesS.Cook, I am agree with you that good maths is art. In fact "mathematical beauty" is really a kind of artistic beauty. Quoted from Halbeisen in his book, Combinatorial Set Theory: "I tried to write this book like a piece of music, not just writing note by note, but using various themes or voices." See also: "DAVID J. BENSON: Music: A Mathematical Offering. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2007)" – user230 Aug 1 '14 at 4:57
Anything based upon fractals tends to make for both good art and good mathematical discussion. – aroth Aug 1 '14 at 6:37
NYU Poly had a conference devoted to the mathematical connections with the Durer painting where many prominent mathematicians (Conway, Richard Stanley, Ziegler, etc.) spoke. The videos from these talks are available here: – Joseph Malkevitch Aug 1 '14 at 13:26

Some crazy mathematicians have managed to calculate the missing centre of the Escher artwork below.

Go to their website to learn all about it. They have some pretty cool animations of it.

Also, this article gives a pretty good overview of the project.

Here is a link to a paper about Escher and symmetry.


Filled in

share|improve this answer
Nice Example! Thanks! – user230 Aug 1 '14 at 3:49
This is just plain cool. – JPBurke Aug 1 '14 at 21:36

Henderson & Taimina (2006) point out that models in hyperbolic geometry are aesthetically compelling, and that the artist M. C. Escher made us of this in a representation of infinity within his works:

Repeating patterns on the sphere have an aesthetic appeal through their simplicity and finiteness. However, in these various hyperbolic models, the patterns have an aesthetic appeal for us because of their connections with infinity--there are infinitely many such patterns and each also draws us to the infinity at the edge of the disc, leaving sufficient space for our imagination. (p. 69)

M.C. Escher's Circle Limit III (based on the Poincaré disc model) M.C. Escher's Circle Limit III (based on the Poincaré disc model)

Henderson, D. W., & Taimina, D. (2006). Experiencing meanings in geometry. In N. Sinclair, D. Pimm, & W. Higginson (Eds.), Mathematics and the aesthetic: New approaches to an ancient affinity (pp. 58–83). Springer Verlag.

share|improve this answer
You can find a similar image (and others) here:… – Benjamin Dickman Aug 1 '14 at 0:59
Thanks for your nice answer. – user230 Aug 1 '14 at 1:47

Salvador Dali's 1954 Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) "deviates from traditional portrayals of the Crucifixion by depicting Christ on the polyhedron net of a hypercube [...]." It could be used to introduce the idea of a fourth spatial dimension.

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)

From the Wikipedia entry:

Instead of painting Christ on a wooden cross, Dalí depicts him upon the net of a hypercube, also known as a tesseract. The unfolding of a tesseract into eight cubes is analogous to unfolding the sides of a cube into six squares. The use of a hypercube for the cross has been interpreted as a geometric symbol for the transcendental nature of God. Just as God exists in a space that is incomprehensible to humans, the hypercube exists in four spatial dimensions, which is equally inaccessible to the mind. The net of the hypercube is a three-dimensional representation of it, similar to how Christ is a human form of God that is more relatable to people.

share|improve this answer
(+1) Nice Example. Thanks. – user230 Aug 1 '14 at 1:46

MAA has a special interest group devoted to mathematics and the arts. Here is the link to its web page which includes galleries and resources:

AMS sponsors an exhibit of mathematical art at the Joint Mathematical Meetings and here is a link for that and related things:

There is also an annual conference dealing with connections between mathematics and the arts which generates lots of materials both of research and pedagogical interest:

share|improve this answer

I haven't looked at many of these in a while, but there are several links to the math behind patterns, perspective, etc.

share|improve this answer
(+1) Surely perspective is one of the most important mathematical aspects of paintings. Do you have any particular example to introduce here? Please add its picture if it is possible. – user230 Aug 1 '14 at 2:07

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.