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Maria Gaetana Agnesi: Google celebrates mathematician with Witch of Agnesi Doodle


Google has celebrated the 296th birthday of Italian mathematician and philosopher Maria Gaetana Agnesi with a Doodle in her honour which shows the Witch of Agnesi curve.

Agnesi is believed to be the first woman in the Western world to gain a reputation as a mathematician.

The mathematical curve named after her is achieved by drawing a line from the source through the circle of radius.

Its real-life uses were only fully recognised in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, by physicists and mathematicians working with x-rays, optical lines, and electrical circuits.

Born on 16 May 1718 to a wealthy Milanese silk merchant, Agnesi mastered several modern languages, as well as Latin, Greek, Hebrew, in her childhood.

Her parents were known to be proud of her intellect, and her father would host parties where she would demonstrate her knowledge.

Her best-known work, Instituzioni analitiche ad uso della gioventù italiana, or the Analytical Institutions for the Use of Italian Youth, explored algebra and analysis in two volumes, and is where  the name the Witch of Agnesi came about.


In the text, Agnesi discussed the curve which was studied by Pierre de Fermat in 1630, and given a construction by Guido Grandi. Grandi had suggested the curve should be given the Latin name versoria: the rope which adjusts the trim of a sail on a boat.

It is believed that a mistranslation by Angesi’s English contemporary John Colson saw the concept keep the name the Witch of Agnesi, as versoria looks similar to the Latin word versiera, meaning ‘witch’ or ‘devil’.

Towards the end of her life, Agnesi turned to religion and devoted herself to charitable work and theological study.

She founded various hospices and died aged 81 in one of the poorhouses that she had once directed.