Maria Cunitz or Maria Cunitia (other versions of surname include: Cunicia, Cunitzin, Kunic, Cunitiae, Kunicia, Kunicka;1610 – August 22, 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 Area 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.
Maria Cunitz or Maria Cunitia
|Died||August 22, 1664|
|Known for||Urania propitia|
David von Gerstmann
Elias von Löwen
|Children||Elias Theodor, Anton Heinrich and Franz Ludwig|
Maria Cunitz was born in Wohlau (now Wołów, Poland), as the eldest daughter of a Baltic German, Heinrich Cunitz, a physician and landowner who had lived in Schweidnitz for most of his life, and Maria Scholtz from Liegnitz, daughter of German scientist Anton von Scholtz (1560–1622), a mathematician and counselor to Duke Joachim Frederick of Liegnitz. The family eventually moved to Schweidnitz in Lower Silesia (today Świdnica, Poland). At an early age Maria married (in 1623) the lawyer David von Gerstmann. After his death in 1626, she married (in 1630) Elias von Löwen, also from Silesia. Elias von Lowen was also known as Elie de Loewen was a physician at Pitschen and studied astronomy. Elias von Lowen was Maria's tutor and encouraged Maria to pursue astronomy before their marriage in 1630. Together they made observation of Venus on December 14, 1627 and Jupiter on April 1628. Other areas of study included medicine, poetry, painting, music, mathematics, ancient languages, and history. Elias and Maria had three sons: Elias Theodor, Anton Heinrich and Franz Ludwig. During the Thirty Year's War from 1618 to 1648 Maria and Elias von Löwen stayed in the Cistercians convent of Olobok, Poland. While at the cloister in Poland, Cunitz expanded her astronomical tables to include all of the planets at any moment in time. At the end of the Thirty Year's War the couple returned to their home at Pitschen in Silesia. In 1650, Maria privately published of her own expense Urania propitia in German and Latin as a dedication to Emperor Ferdinand III. Urania propitia was a simplification of Kepler's Rudolphine Tables due to their difficulty of producing calculations and applications, because the use of logarithms. In the evening of May 25, 1656 in Pitschen, Silesia a large fire destroyed most of the homes in the city, including Maria's home, Maria lost astronomical instruments and Elias lost medical instruments. The fire consumed Maria's books, letters, and more than 200 records of astronomical observations. Maria became a widow again in 1661, and died at Pitzen on August 22, 1664.
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. Paul Knötel appears to be the first to give the year 1604 as the year of Maria's birth. This date seemed to make sense 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. Full details concerning the family of Maria Cunitz have been published by KIaus Liwowsky.
The publication of the book Urania propitia (Olse, Silesia, 1650) gained Cunitz a European reputation. Cunitz's husband, Elias von Löwen, wrote a preface in Urania propitia to cast out any rumors that it was Elias von Löwen that computed the tables and to show support for his wife. Urania propitia was written in Latin and German to further accessibility in the simplification of Kepler's Rudolphine tables (1627) by correcting several of Kepler's errors. Maria's work allowed for simpler algorithms leading to fewer calculations and errors, but Maria created new errors by omitting some of the small coefficients in her formulas. 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. 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.
(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 able to converse in seven languages, German, Italian, French, Polish, Latin, Greek and Hebrew, was an experienced musician and an accomplished painter. She was a dedicated astrologist and especially enjoyed astronomical problems.
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 June 10, 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 $19,827 USD.
Maria Cunitz is usually characterized as Silesian, for example in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911. 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, the united Poland between 990  and 1202 and part of Bohemia between 1038 and 1050. In 1202 the Polish seniorate was abolished and all Polish Duchies, including Silesia, became independent, although four Silesian dukes of the 13th century were rulers of Kraków and held the title Duke of Poland. In 1331 the region again became part of Bohemia. 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.
During Maria's lifetime, nationality did not play as significant a role in determining person's identity as it does today. 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. She published in German. She has been also described as Polish and some consider her to be the first Polish woman astronomer. Cunitz spoke not only German and Polish but also French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Hebrew.
- 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.
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