At the inauguration of IHP in 1928, the laboratory of geometry of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Paris transferred its books and mathematical models to the IHP library. The collection counts more than six hundred models in plaster, wood, wire and thread. Some of them are exhibited permanently in the library hall. Most models were created by Martin Schilling in Leipzig between 1900 and 1920 and a few of them (in wood) were made between 1912 and 1915 by J. Caron, Professor of Descriptive Geometry in charge of the "graphic work" course at the ENS at the beginning of the century (between 1912 and 1915).
These mathematical models, whose main original function was pedagogical, where conceived for practical lessons. Isabelle Fortuné*, author of a Master's thesis in the History of Art in 1998 on Man Ray (University of Paris I) quotes Henri Vuibert who wrote in 1912: "To help students see in space, we materialized the main figures of geometry and descriptive geometry. The use of figures in relief will provide invaluable assistance to education, especially if they are built by the students themselves." (In Henry Vuibert. The Anaglyphs geometric. Paris: Librairie Vuibert, 1912, p. 8).
In the thirties, the surrealists --led by Max Ernst-- were interested in these geometric objects. André Breton alludes to them in "Crise de l'objet", an article in the magazine Cahiers d'Art (May 1936, No. 1-2, p. 21-26.). Man Ray took photographs of the models, which where published in this same issue. He would later use them to compose what he called "Shakespearean Equations". Many artists, painters, architects and sculptors drew inspiration from them.
Currently, nearly one hundred of these objects are on permanent display in the library.
* Isabelle Fortuné, « Man Ray et les objets mathématiques », Études photographiques, n°6, Mai 1999, [On line on revues.org]. URL: http://etudesphotographiques.revues.org/index190.html. Consulté le 30 juillet 2010.