Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happy Birthday, Maria!

Maria Gaetana Agnesi was born in Milan, Italy on May 16, 1718. It's appropriate, then, that my first post to this blog is dated on the anniversary of her birth. My friend, Fran, pointed out that the day and year of Maria's birth form a number series: 16, 17, 18. That makes it easy to remember. And I have no trouble remembering the month, because I also have a May birthday. :-)  [By the way, here's a math question for you: How old would Maria be today? The answer's at the end of this post.]

When Maria was born, the great cathedral of Milan, known as the Duomo, was still under construction. Work on the cathedral had been started four centuries earlier, in 1386. The building wasn't completed until the early 1800s, years after Maria's death. Here is a picture of an engraving that shows what the cathedral looked like during her lifetime:

Interestingly, this engraving was done by Marc'Antonio Dal Re, the same artist who illustrated Analytical Institutions, the mathematics textbook that Maria wrote. (Dal Re created the illuminated letter in the sidebar for that textbook.) You can see a larger version of the above image, which is in the public domain, on the Wikipedia site.

And here is a section of what the Duomo looks like today (from clipart):

So, have you figured out the answer to the math question: How old would Maria be today? Well, on the date of this post, May 16, 2010, she turns 292! Happy birthday, Maria!


  1. What a fascinating topic! Thanks so much for your research--I'm learning so much, Carmela!