Adoration of the Shepherds

Adoration of the Shepherds, a 1622 painting of the Nativity by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst.

Adoration of the Shepherds, a 1622 painting of the Nativity by Dutch artist Gerard van Honthorst.

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On this day: Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in 1718

Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in 1718

Italian mathematician and philosopher Maria Gaetana Agnesiwas born on the 16th of May, 1718.

A child prodigy who spoke seven languages, she came from a wealthy Milanese family. At the age of nine she spoke for an hour in Latin about a woman’s right to education to a group of respected intellectuals. By age fourteen she was heavily interested in topics such as geometry and ballistics, and though she took over the care of her (eventual twenty-two) younger siblings, she continued to pursue many intellectual interests.

Becoming deeply religious as she grew older, her family obligations prevented her from achieving her dream of entering a convent.

First page of Instituzioni analitiche (1748)

The first page of Agnesi’s book, Instituzioni analitiche.

Her greatest achievement is considered to be the book she authored, which was the first to discuss various aspects of calculus. She also opened her home to the poor who needed medical treatment.

She was not the only notable member of her family. Composer Maria Teresa Agnesi Pinottini was her sister.

Agnesi died at age eighty on the 9th of January, 1799.