Maria Cunitz

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Maria Cunitz
A memorial to Maria Cunitz in Świdnica, Poland
Born1610 (1610)
Died22 August, 1664 (aged 53–54)
Pitschen, Duchy of Legnica, Holy Roman Empire
Known forUrania propitia
David von Gerstmann
(m. 1623)
Elias von Löwen
(m. 1630)
Scientific career
FieldsAstronomy, mathematics
Academic advisorsElias von Löwen

Maria Cunitz or Maria Cunitia[1][2] (other versions of surname include: Cunicia, Cunitzin,[3] Kunic, Cunitiae, Kunicia, Kunicka;[4] 1610 – 22 August 1664) was an accomplished Silesian astronomer, and the most notable female astronomer of the early modern era. She authored a book Urania propitia, in which she provided new tables, new ephemera, and a simpler working solution to Kepler's second law for determining the position of a planet on its elliptical path. The Cunitz crater on Venus is named after her. The minor planet 12624 Mariacunitia is named in her honour.[5]


Maria Cunitz was born in Wohlau (now Wołów, Poland), as the eldest daughter of a Baltic German, Heinrich Cunitz,[6][7] a physician and landowner who had lived in Schweidnitz for most of his life, and Maria Scholtz from Liegnitz,[8][9] daughter of German scientist Anton von Scholtz[10] (1560–1622), a mathematician and counselor to Duke Joachim Frederick of Liegnitz. The year of Maria's birth is uncertain. No birth, baptism or similar documents have ever been located. The year was speculated about in the first major German-language publication about Maria Cunitz of 1798.[11] Paul Knötel appears to be the first to give the year 1604 as the year of Maria's birth.[12] This date is estimated to be accurate since her parents married the previous year. Other authors later appear to have repeated the same year. The proof that Maria was actually born in 1610 is furnished by an anthology with congratulation poems on her first wedding, in connection with a letter of Elias A Leonibus to Johannes Hevelius from the year 1651, noted by Ingrid Guentherodt.[13][14] Full details concerning the family of Maria Cunitz have been published by Klaus Liwowsky.[15] The family eventually moved to Schweidnitz in Lower Silesia (today Świdnica, Poland). At an early age of 13, Maria married (in 1623) the lawyer David von Gerstmann. After his death in 1626, she married (in 1630) Elias von Löwen,[16] also from Silesia.[17] Elias von Lowen was also known as Elie de Loewen was a physician at Pitschen and studied astronomy.[3] Elias von Lowen was Maria's tutor[18] and encouraged Maria to pursue astronomy before their marriage in 1630.[3] Together they made observation of Venus on the 14th of December in the year 1627 and Jupiter in April of 1628.[3] Other areas of study that Maria was proficient in included medicine, poetry, painting, music, mathematics, ancient languages, and history.[19] Elias and Maria had three sons: Elias Theodor, Anton Heinrich and Franz Ludwig.[3] During the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War from 1618 to 1648 Maria and Elias von Löwen[20] took refuge in the Cistercians convent of Olobok, Poland.[3] They were of protestant religion; her siblings, who stayed in Silesia, converted to Roman Catholocism. During the time Maria and Elias took refuge, Maria used her time to arrange a set of astronomical tables that were based on the Rudolphine Tables, which was written by Johannes Kepler.[21][22] Cunitz expanded her astronomical tables to include all of the planets at any moment in time.[20] At the end of the Thirty Years' War the couple returned to their home at Pitschen in Silesia.[3] In 1650, Maria privately published of her own expense Urania propitia in German and Latin as a dedication to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III.[3] Urania propitia was a simplification of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables due to their difficulty of producing calculations and applications, because the use of logarithms.[23]

Urania propitia[edit]

Urania propitia is one of the most well known and influential works created by Cunitz. Her cosmology, as exemplified in this work, was a variation of other great, early astronomers such as Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Urania propitia is a "large quarto with a large number of pages of tables that allows people to determine both the longitude and latitude of each of the planets, also along with other parameters." In this text she revised the complicated and errored calculations found in Kepler's Rudolphine Tables by creating simpler algorithms that reduced the room for human and mathematical error. However, Cunitz did omit small coefficients, leading to minimal errors in Urania propitia. Urania propitia was published in both Latin and German in order to increases its accessibility.

Elias von Lowen, Maria's second husband, created the preface to Urania propitia. Elias wanted to make sure the reader of Urania propitia knew that the entirety of this work was exclusively Maria's own work. Elias also wanted to note that he had no part in writing Urania propitia, but he wanted to make clear the fact that he continuously supported his wife Maria.[1]

Urania propitia provided new tables, new ephemera, and a more elegant solution to Kepler's Problem, which is to determine the position of a planet in its orbit as a function of time. Today, her book is also credited for its contribution to the development of the German scientific language.

Urania propitia did not have much of an impact on late 17th-century astronomy. A large contribution to this fact has to do with Cunitz publishing her work in an isolated printing establishment in Olesnica, and there were only a few copies of the Urania propitia made. No one really mentioned Urania propitia, except a mid-century Parisian astronomer named Ismael Boulliau.[7] However, Boulliau "only commented on the Urania propitia and thought his work was better and more accurate than Cunitz's work."

Urania is the Greek mythological muse of Astronomy while propitia is translated from Latin to "beneficent." This title follows the common theme of attributing a scientific success to a female muse, but also recognizes the connection between the muse and its female author. This statement title in early 17th century Germany, a time where recognized and accepted women scientists were few and far between, was a groundbreaking text that exemplified the abilities of women in science.[1]


Maria was the daughter of Heinrich Cunitz, who was a well renowned and knowledgeable physician, and Maria Scholtz, the self educated daughter of a German scientist. Although both of Maria's parents were well educated, Maria herself never had any formal education. Despite the negative connotation of teaching women about the natural sciences that often prevailed in 17th century Germany, Heinrich and Mary educated Maria in a multitude of subjects, including mathematics, medicine, history, and the fine arts. Maria could speak in seven languages: German, Italia, French, Polish, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.

One of Maria's tutors, Elias von Löven, a physician and amateur astrologist like her father, would later become her second husband. During their marriage Elias encouraged his wife's passion for astronomy and mathematics.[24] He introduced her to various astronomists of the time, such as Johannes Hevelius of Danzig, Ismaël Boulliau, Pierre Desnoyers, Albrecht Portner, and Pierre Gassendi, who served as secretary to the Queen of Poland. However, the past limitations in the education and communication of women meant that Maria had to communicate with her fellow scholars under the name of her husband, Elias. Often the letters were filled with poetic fluff in order to maintain the common etiquette while in communication with one of the opposite sex.

Due to her many talents and accomplishments, Cunitz was called the "Silesian Pallas" by J.B. Delambre, who also compared her to Hypatia of Alexandria during his study of history in astronomy.

In 1727 the book Schlesiens Hoch- und Wohlgelehrtes Frauenzimmer, nebst unterschiedenen Poetinnen..., Johan Caspar Eberti wrote that

"(Maria) Cunicia or Cunitzin was the daughter of the famous Henrici Cunitii. She was a well-educated woman, like a queen among the Silesian womanhood. She was a dedicated astrologist and especially enjoyed astronomical problems".[12]


Urania propitia had a lasting effect in the world of astronomy, inspiring her fellow astronomers and correspondents to eliminate errors and eir on the side of simplicity when deriving calculations. However, a fire broke out in the streets of Byczyna, Poland and destroyed Maria Cunitz and her husband Elias von Löwen's house and her vast collection astronomy equipment, academic books and papers, and her detailed correspondence with relevant astronomers. Much of her work was lost. However, Urania propitia was privately published and as of 2016 there are nine physical copies in the world along with multiple online copies. Physical copies can be found in the Library of the Astronomical Observatory of Paris, Library of the University of Florida, in the exhibit of Galileo and Kepler at the University Libraries of Norman, Oklahoma, and Bloomington Lilly Library of Indiana University. Prior to 10 June 2004 the first edition of Urania propitia was located at The Library of The Earls of Macclesfield in the Shirburn Castle: Part 2 Science A-C section. The book was sold at the Sotheby's auction house for US$19,827.[8]

In Świdnica, the town where Maria grew up, there is a monument of Cunitz. The monument is an iron bench with a bronze sculpture of Maria sitting on the bench with the Urania propitia in her right hand. Apparently, the monument of Maria in Świdnica, is the only known monument contributed to Cunitz.[22]


Map from 1645 showing places of Cunitz' life in Silesia like Wolaw, Lignitz and Schweidnitz. In those times both German and Slavic names were in use.

Maria Cunitz is usually characterized as Silesian, for example in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911.[16] She was born and spent most of her life in the Holy Roman Empire, which included non-German minorities, ruled by the Austrian Habsburg monarchy. The fragment of Silesia in which Maria lived was part of Bohemia before 990,[25] the united Poland between 990 [25][24] and 1202[26] and part of Bohemia between 1038 and 1050.[27] In 1202 the Polish seniorate was abolished and all Polish Duchies, including Silesia, became independent,[26] although four Silesian dukes of the 13th century were rulers of Kraków and held the title Duke of Poland.[26][28] In 1331 the region again became part of Bohemia.[29] In 1742 it became part of Prussia and in 1871 the German Empire. About three centuries after Maria's lifetime it was reassigned to Poland after World War II.[citation needed]

During Maria's lifetime, nationality did not play as significant a role in determining person's identity as it does today.[30][31] However, the birthplace of Maria Cunitz and the long reaching effects of the Thirty Years War did have a substantial effect on Maria's work. Her time in hiding helped to develop her simplification of the Rudolphine Tables. Nevertheless, multiple later sources felt the need to assign to Maria Cunitz a nationality relevant to their own time. She has mostly been described as German, for example in the Biographical Dictionary of Woman in Science.[32] She published in German. She has been also described as Polish[4][33][34] and some[4] consider her to be the first Polish woman astronomer. Cunitz spoke not only German and Polish but also French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Hebrew.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Cunitz, Maria. "Urania propitia, sive Tabulæ Astronomicæ mirè faciles, vim hypothesium physicarum à Kepplero proditarum complexae; facillimo calculandi compendio, sine ullâ logarithmorum mentione paenomenis satisfacientes; Quarum usum pro tempore praesente, exacto et futuro succincte praescriptum cum artis cultoribus communicat Maria Cunitia. Das ist: Newe und Langgewünschete, leichte Astronomische Tabelln, etc.", Oels, Silesia,1650.
  2. ^ "Katalog z wystawy Astronom Maria Kunic".
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Bernardi, Gabriella (2016). The Unforgotten Sisters : female astronomers and scientists before Caroline Herschel. Cham: Springer International Publishing. pp. 61–66. ISBN 978-3-319-26125-6. OCLC 944920062.
  4. ^ a b c Storm Dunlop, Michèle Gerbaldi, "Stargazers: the contribution of amateurs to astronomy", Springer-Verlag, 1988, pg. 40
  5. ^ "Discovery Circumstances: Numbered Minor Planets (10001)-(15000)". Minor Planet Center.
  6. ^ Allgemeines Schriftsteller- und Gelehrten-Lexikon der Provinzen Livland, Esthland und Kurland, Volume 1, J.F. Steffenhagen und Sohn, 1827 [1]
  7. ^ a b Sigrid Dienel: Die Pestschrift des schlesischen Arztes Heinrich Cunitz (1580–1629) aus dem Jahr 1625: ein zeitgenössisches medizinisch-pharmazeutisches Dokument? : eine vergleichende Untersuchung mit Pestschriften aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, 2000 [2]
  8. ^ a b Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives From Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century, 2000, page 309.
  9. ^ Name Lignitz on the map from that period File:Blaeu 1645 - Nova totius Germaniæ descriptio.jpg
  10. ^ Johann Heinrich Zedler, Grosses vollständiges Universal-Lexicon Aller Wissenschafften und Künste, 68 Bände, Leipzig 1732–1754, hier: Band 35, Spalte 1618f. [3]
  11. ^ Johann Ephraim Scheibel: Nachrichten von der Frau von Lewen geb. Cunitzin. In: Astronomische Bibliographie, der 3. Abteilung, zweite Fortsetzung, Schriften aus dem siebzehnten Jahrhundert von 1631 bis 1650 aus der Reihe Einleitung zur mathematischen Bücherkenntnis. Nr. 20, Breslau 1798, pages 361–378.
  12. ^ a b Paul Knötel: Maria Cunitia. In: Friedrich Andreae (Hrsg.): Schlesier des 17. bis 19. Jahrhunderts, Schlesische Lebensbilder. Nr. 3, Breslau 1928, pages 61–65.
  13. ^ Ingrid Guentherodt: Maria Cunitia. Urania propitia; Intendiertes, erwartetes und tatsächliches Lesepublikum einer Astronomin des 17. Jh.. In: Daphnis. Zeitschrift für mittlere deutsche Literatur. Nr. 20, 1991, pages 311–353.
  14. ^ Ingrid Guentherodt: Frühe Spuren von Maria Cunitia und Daniel Czepko in Schweidnitz 1623. In: Daphnis. Zeitschrift für mittlere deutsche Literatur. Nr. 20, 1991, pages 547–584.
  15. ^ Liwowsky, Klaus. Einige Neuigkeiten uber die Familie der Schlesierin Maria Cunitz. Koblenz/Rhein, 2010.
  16. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  17. ^ Article „Löwen, Elias von“ in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 19 (1884), ab Seite 311, Digitale Volltext-Ausgabe in Wikisource, URL:,_Elias_von&oldid=810951 (Version vom 21. August 2009, 02:44 Uhr UTC)
  18. ^ Ogivie, Marilyn; Harvey, Joy (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. New York and London: Routledge. pp. 308–309.
  19. ^ Ogilvie, Marilyn (1986). Women in Science. Massachusetts: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. pp. 63–64. ISBN 0-262-15031-X.
  20. ^ a b van Schurman, Anna Maria (1998). Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated and Other Writings from Her Intellectual Circle. University of Chicago Press. p. 217. ISBN 9780226849980.
  21. ^ "Maria Cunitz - Scientist of the Day". Linda Hall Library. 22 August 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  22. ^ a b "Maria Cunitz - Scientist of the Day". Linda Hall Library. 22 August 2018. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  23. ^ Rohrbach, Augusta (2014). Thinking Outside the Book. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 147. ISBN 9781625341259.
  24. ^ a b Dehio – Handbuch der Kunstdenkmäler in Polen: Schlesien, Badstübner, Ernst; Dietmar Popp, Andrzej Tomaszewski, Dethard von Winterfeld, page 1, 2005, München, Deutscher Kunstverlag 2005, ISBN 3-422-03109-X
  25. ^ a b Handbuch der historischen Stätten: Schlesien, 2003, Hubert Weczerka, page XXXI, Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, ISBN 3-520-31602-1
  26. ^ a b c Handbuch der historischen Stätten: Schlesien, 2003, Hubert Weczerka, page XXXV, Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, ISBN 3-520-31602-1
  27. ^ Handbuch der historischen Stätten: Schlesien, 2003, Hubert Weczerka, page XXXII + XXXIII, Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, ISBN 3-520-31602-1
  28. ^ (in English) Oskar Halecki, Antony Polonsky (1978). A history of Poland. Routledge. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-7100-8647-4. Google Books
  29. ^ Handbuch der historischen Stätten: Schlesien, 2003, Hubert Weczerka, page 128, Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag, ISBN 3-520-31602-1
  30. ^ Smith, Anthony D. (1993). National Identity. Reno: University of Nevada Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-87417-204-7.
  31. ^ "The Dynamics of the Policies of Ethnic Cleansing in Silesia in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries" by Tomasz Kamusella, Open Society Institute, Center for Publishing Development, Budapest, Hungary, 1999, "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 February 2017. Retrieved 24 February 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie, Joy Dorothy Harvey, "The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science: Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-20th Century", Routledge, 2000, pg. 309, [4]
  33. ^ Rayner-Canham, Marelene F.; Rayner-Canham, Marelene; Rayner-Canham, Geoffrey (5 April 2018). Women in Chemistry: Their Changing Roles from Alchemical Times to the Mid-twentieth Century. Chemical Heritage Foundation. ISBN 9780941901277 – via Google Books.
  34. ^ "Cisterscian localisations - Cistercian Track in Poland". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2009.
  35. ^ "Bibliotheca Sacra". Dallas Theological Seminary. 5 April 2018 – via Google Books.

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