AGNESI, Maria Gaetana - FRISI, Antonio Francesco.

Elogio storico di Da. Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Milanese dell' Accademia dell'Instituto delle Scienze, e lettrice onoraria di matematiche nella Universita' di Bologna.

Milan: Giuseppe Galeazzi, 1799 Stock Code: 138353
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The first biography of Agnesi, in a pretty contemporary binding

First edition of "the most valuable source of information" (Mazzotti, p. 658) on the life of the Italian mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi, the first woman to publish a mathematical work. Written by her friend Antonio Frisi and published the year of her death, it is the earliest biographical work about her. Though relatively well represented institutionally (24 copies traced on Library Hub and Library Hub), the Elogio storico is scarce in commerce (one copy traced at auction, Swann 1977, the Duarte copy).

A native of Milan, Agnesi (1718-1799) was one of twenty-one children in a wealthy merchant family, and quickly distinguished herself as a prodigy in the subjects of natural philosophy and mathematics, growing up in a household filled with contemporary scientific works and instruments. Her Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventu' Italiana (Milan: Nella Regia-Ducal Corte, 1748) is "believed to be the first advanced mathematics book by a woman. The text is one of the earliest by anyone to provide a comprehensive introduction to algebra, geometry, differential calculus, integral calculus, and differential equations" (Grolier, p. 73). Comprising 1,020 pages, it is also notable for supplying the first formal presentation of calculus terminology in the Italian language. Completed after a decade of work, it was the culmination of her mathematical studies, and was dedicated to Empress Maria Theresa, whose reforms had recently aided the opening of Italian culture to Enlightenment ideas. Analytical Institutions enjoyed great popularity and was praised for its accessibility, particularly in presenting young scholars with more advanced material than that found in other contemporary European mathematics treatises. In recognition of this great work, in 1750 Agnesi was awarded the chair of Mathematics and Analytical Geometry at the University of Bologna by Pope Benedict XIV, though there is debate as to whether she formally took up the position; regardless, her name was added to the faculty roll, making her the second woman ever to be granted professorship at a university, the famous physicist Laura Bassi being the first (also in Bologna). Shortly after, Agnesi began to devote her time to social work.

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Octavo (192 x 130 mm). Contemporary patterned carta rustica, spine unlettered, edges sprinkled red.


Engraved portrait frontispiece by Joseph Franchi after F. Bordiga, engraved title page vignette, headpiece.


Handwritten shelfmark to front cover in ink, ownership inscription to front pastedown, "Pre[?] Cernezzi". Spine chipped with some loss, patch of pale blue dampstain to head of gutter continuing throughout contents to rear cover, tiny wormhole to gutter of final gathering, faint offset of final page of text to rear pastedown. A crisp, bright copy in a pretty contemporary binding.


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