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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Maria Agnesi

b. 1718, Milan; d. 1799, Milan

Maria Agnesi is regarded as the first female mathematician of the Western world. She knew seven languages by her thirteenth birthday and was recognized as a child prodigy when she began writing and delivering lectures on topics such as natural philosophy at the soirées organized by her father, a wealthy silk merchant, in their home. These lectures were published as Propositiones philosophicae in 1738. Her encyclopedic treatise on mathematics, covering algebra, analytical geometry, and calculus, was published in 1748 as Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana (Analytical Institutions for the Use of Italian Youth). On the basis of this text, in 1750 Agnesi was awarded the chair of mathematics and analytical geometry at the University of Bologna but she declined to fill the post. After her father’s death in 1752, she turned increasingly to religious and charitable work and in 1771 became the director of the Luogo Pio Trivulzi, a hospice for the aged. She died there in 1799.