Maria Agnesi


Maria Gaetana Agnesi

*May 16, 1718 (Milano)

†January 1799 (Milano)

Italian mathematician and philosopher

Maria Gaetana Agnesi rose to fame in her lifetime as a child prodigy in her native Milan. Later she became known mostly for her 1748 Instituzioni Analitiche, a calculus textbook, that caught the attention of mathematicians throughout Europe, including Leonhard Euler. This work earned her an honorary place in the Academy of Sciences of Bologna.

Il diploma di nomina dell’ Agnesi all’ Università di Bologna. 15 Oct 1750

She has been found to be an enigmatic figure of the history of science, as she gave up her scientific pursuits in her thirties for a life of piety helping the poor.

Agnesi wrote about the rights of women to an education while still a child; she published in 1727 the Oratio in which the worth of women was assessed and defended.

Her scientific interests go from Newtonian mechanics to natural history and the relationship of the soul with the body. Her mathematics combines Leibnizian and Newtonian perspectives on calculus, as well as differential and integral calculus.

    by Iulia Mihai

    Our research is centered upon Agnesi’s first book, Propositiones philosophicae (1738). The book is a compendium of science, whose structure is similar to that of textbook introductions to philosophy in the tradition of Latin language philosophy of the early modern period. It starts with topics in logic, the mind, goes on to the nature of body and motion, and ends with topics in meteorology and the organic soul. What is surprising about the book is that, instead of going with either Newtonianism or Cartesianism, Agnesi appeals instead to Stoicism in decisive philosophical matters.

    Thus, the current project is focused on exploring (i) the extent to which Agnesi embraces Stoic philosophy in her natural philosophy prior to her 1748 Instituzioni analitiche; and (ii) how Newtonian mechanics is incorporated in her views on nature. A critical edition of the Latin text with an English translation of Agnesi’s Propositiones philosophicae is in preparation.


  • Primary Sources

    Agnesi published three titles under her name, as follows:

    1727. Oratio qua ostenditur artium liberalium studia a femeneo sexu netiquam abhorrere, Milano: In Curia Regia.

    Translated as The Studies of the Liberal Arts by the Female Sex Are by No Means Inappropriate (1727) in Massbarger, R. and Findlen, P. (eds.) 2005. The Contest for Knowledge: Debates over women’s learning in Eighteenth-Century Italy, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.

    1738. Propositiones Philosophicae, Milan: In Curia Regia.

    1748. Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana, Milan: Nella Regia-Ducal Corte (2 vols).


    There is also a number of reviews of Agnesi’s 1748 Institutions:

    Anon. 1749. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Novelle letterarie 10(31), col. 492-496; (37), col. 586-587.

    Anon. 1750. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Journal des Scavans, 309-310.

    Anon. 1750. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Nova Acta Eruditorum n. 13, 605-609.

    Anon. 1750. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Novelle della Repubblica Letteraria n. 23, 180-181.

    Anon. 1750. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Lettres sur quelques écrits de ce temps, Tome III, Genève et Amsterdam, Pierre Mortier, p. 66–71.

    De Mairan, Dortous 1749. Review of Agnesi’s Instituzioni analitiche in Les registres de l’académie royale des Sciences (republished in A. F. Frisi 1799. Elogio storico di D. Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Milano: Presso Giuseppe Galeazzi).


    Other literature:

    Agnesi, Maria Gaetana 1775. Traités Élémentaires De Calcul Différentiel Et De Calcul Intégral. Paris: Jombert.

    Agnesi, Maria Gaetana; Hellins, John; Colson, John 1801. Analytical institutions. In 4 books Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventu˚ Italiana. London: Taylor and Wilks.

  • Secoundary Sources

    Accademia di Padova 2005. The contest for knowledge. Debates over women’s learning in eighteenth-century Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Other voice in early modern Europe).

    Anzoletti, Luisa 1900. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Luisa Anzoletti. Milano: L. F. Cogliati.
    Benazzoli, Cornelia 1939. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Milano: Bocca.

    Bellù, Adele; Giacometti, Giulio; Sessa, Piero 1999. Maria Gaetana Agnesi ricercatrice di Gesù Cristo. Milano: NED.

    Bernardi, Gabriella 2016. The Unforgotten Sisters. Female Astronomers and Scientists before Caroline Herschel. 1st ed. 2016. Cham: Springer.

    Betti, Renato 2018. A protagonist of the 18th-century mathematics: Maria Gaetana Agnesi. In: Lettera matematica 6 (2), S. 93–102.

    Betti, Renato 2018. Una Protagonista della Matematica del XVIII Secolo: Maria Gaetana Agnesi. In: Lettera matematica pristem 104 (1), S. 47–56.

    Burson, Jeffrey D.; Lehner, Ulrich L. (Hg.) 2014. Enlightenment and Catholicism in Europe. A transnational history. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press.

    Carrara, Bellino 1918. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Nel secondo centenario della sua nascita. In: La scuola cattolica.

    Coen, S. 2017. Geometry and Complex Variables. 1st ed. London: CRC Press.

    Cupillari, Antonella 2007. A biography of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an eighteenth-century woman mathematician. With translations of some of her work from Italian into English. Lewiston, NY: Mellen.

    Dooley, Brendan 2009. The World of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Mathematician of God (review). In: The catholic historical review.
    Faulkner, Nicholas 2016. Top 101 Women of STEM. Chicago, IL: Britannica Educational Publishing (People You Should Know II).

    Findlen, Paula 2011. Calculations of faith. Mathematics, philosophy, and sanctity in 18th-century Italy (new work on Maria Gaetana Agnesi). In: Historia mathematica.

    Frank, Elisabeth 1998. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Mathematikerin (16.05.1718-09.01.1799). In: Lehren & lernen <Villingen-Schwenningen>.

    Frisi, Antonio Francesco 1799. Elogio Storico Di D.a Maria Gaetana Agnesi Milanese Dell’Accademia Dell’Instituto Delle Scienze, E Lettrice Onoraria Di Matematiche Nella Università Di Bologna. Milano: Galeazzi.

    Frisi, Antonio Francesco 1965. Elogio storico di D.a Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Ristampa della edizione milanese del 1799. Milano.

    Guerrini, Paolo 1919. Il maestro di Maria Gaetana Agnesi. In: La scuola cattolica.

    Klens, Ulrike 1994. Mathematikerinnen im 18. Jahrhundert. Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Gabrielle-Emilie DuChâtelet, Sophie Germain ; Fallstudien zur Wechselwirkung von Wissenschaft und Philosophie im Zeitalter der Aufklärung. Zugl.: Augsburg, Univ., Diss., 1992. Pfaffenweiler: Centaurus-Verl.-Ges (Forum Frauengeschichte, 12).

    Lehner, Ulrich L. 2021. The Catholic Enlightenment. A Global Anthology. Unter Mitarbeit von Shaun Blanchard. 1st ed. Erscheinungsort nicht ermittelbar: Catholic University of America Press (Early Modern Catholic Sources Ser, v.volume 3).

    Martini, Carlotta 2017. Zwei Frauenleben für die Wissenschaft im 18. Jahrhundert. Eine vergleichende Fallstudie zu Émilie du Châtelet und Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Bearbeitet und herausgegeben von Gudrun Wolfschmidt. 1. Auflage. Hg. v. Gudrun Wolfschmidt. Hamburg: tredition (Nuncius Hamburgensis – Beiträge zur Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, 43).

    Mazzotti, Massimo 2007. The world of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, mathematician of God. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Mazzotti, Massimo 2018. The world of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, mathematician of God. Johns Hopkins paperback edition. Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    McCartney, Mark; Lawrence, Snezana (Hg.) 2015. Mathematicians and their gods. Interactions between mathematics and religious beliefs. Oxford University Press. First edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Meyer, Ursula; Bennent-Vale, Heidemarie (Hg.) 1997. Philosophinnen Lexikon. Leipzig: Reclam.

    Minonzio, Franco 2006. Chiarezza e metodo. L’indagine scientifica di Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Milano: Lampi di stampa.

    Probst, Ernst 2009. Superfrauen 5 – Wissenschaft. 1. Auflage, digitale Originalausgabe. München: GRIN Verlag.

    Publishing, Helicon 2005. Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Abingdon: Helicon Publishing.

    Riccati, Vincenzo 1753. Lettera di Vincenzio Riccati della compagnia di Gesù alla Signora D. Gaetana Maria Agnesi intorno alla costruzione di alcune formule senza la separazione delle indeterminate. (Florentiae).

    Roero, Clara Silvia 2015. M.G. Agnesi, R. Rampinelli and the Riccati family. A cultural fellowship formed for an important scientific purpose, the Instituzioni analitiche. In: Historia mathematica.

    Roero, Clara Silvia 2016. Giornali, accademie e traduzioni. Il successo europeo delle “Instituzioni analitiche” di Maria Gaetana Agnesi. In: Physis.

    Schmidt, Willi (Hg.) 1990. Frauen in den exakten Naturwissenschaften. Festkolloquium zum 100. Geburtstag von Frau Dr. Margarethe Schimank (1890 – 1983). Unter Mitarbeit von Margarethe Schimank. Hans-Schimank-Gedächtnis-Stiftung; Festkolloquium zum 100. Geburtstag von Frau Dr. Margarethe Schimank (1890 – 1983). Stuttgart: Steiner.

    Swaby, Rachel 2015. Headstrong. 52 Women Who Changed Science-And the World. New York: The Crown Publishing Group.

    Tietjen, Jill S. 2017. Engineering Women. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG (Women in Engineering and Science Ser).

    Tietjen, Jill S. 2020. Scientific Women. Re-Visioning Women’s Scientific Achievements and Impacts. Cham: Springer International Publishing AG (Women in Engineering and Science Ser).

    Tilche, Giovanna 2018. Maria Gaetana Agnesi. Matematica e compassione. Roma: Castelvecchi (Storie).

    Venkatraman, Padma 2009. Women mathematicians. 1st ed. Greensboro, N.C: Morgan Reynolds Publ (Profiles in mathematics).

    Whaley, Leigh 2016. Networks, patronage and women of science during the Italian enlightenment. In: Early modern women.

  • Online Sources
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