Regiomontanus was one of the most notable scholars of Germany during the 15th century, excelling in a wide range of fields. At a time when new inventions were ushering in a new era in Europe and paving the way for the Renaissance, Regiomontanus had a deep interest in instrument making.
In this, he was aided by his profound interest in mathematics, optics and astronomy. He wrote extensively on mathematical subjects such as algebra, arithmetic and trigonometry. He also created many elaborate astronomical instruments during his lifetime and was intimately familiar with the movements of the stars.
His works on mathematics and astronomy earned him lasting fame. Contemporary European mathematicians were deeply influenced by his works and so were those who came later, such as the famed Renaissance mathematician, Copernicus, who cited Regiomontanus as one of his major influences.
Regiomontanus joined the university in Leipzig at an early age. He later joined the university in Vienna in 1451 and became pupil to the accomplished scholar of the time, Peuerbach. Peuerbach’s mentorship would prove highly influential for the rest of Regiomontanus’ life.
In 1460, Peuerbach started an abridged translation of Ptolemy’s ‘Almagest’ but died in 1461, leaving the work unfinished. Upon his death, Regiomontanus became a part of the household of the papal legate Basilios Bessarion, with whom he traveled to Italy.
While travelling with Bessarion through Italy, Regiomontanus met many eminent scholars and mathematicians of the time. It was from 1464 to 1475 that he penned down many important works on mathematics, astronomy and other subjects. He died in 1475 while working on calendar reform with the Pope at Rome.
The earliest of the works that Regiomontanus completed with the abridged translation of Almagest which his mentor, Peuerbach, had originally begun. Regiomontanus titled the translation as ‘Epitome of the Almagest’.
His subsequent works were all related to mathematics, optics and astronomy. One of the most notable of these was ‘De Triangulis’, comprising of five books in which he dealt with trigonometric functions, spherical trigonometry and related subjects.
‘Scipta’ is one of his notable works on optics where he detailed the wide variety of optical and astronomical instruments that he had made. A major work of Regiomontanus which became very influential with his contemporaries was ‘Ephemerides’ in which he detailed how the Moon’s movements could be used to determine longitude.
Regiomontanus’ mathematical and astronomical achievements earned his fame during his lifetime. Even as he lived, contemporary mathematicians drew on his works and ideas. One of the leading Italian scientists of the late 15th century, Domenico Maria Novara de Ferrara considered Regiomontanus as his teacher.
Ferrara was, in turn, the teacher to Nicolaus Copernicus, the famed Renaissance mathematician. Copernicus cited that he was deeply influenced by Regiomontanus work ‘Epitome of the Almagest’. Regiomontanus also played an instrumental role in establishing Nuremberg as a center of learning and mathematical research during the 15th century. It was largely due to his legacy that the city eventually became known for producing celestial globes and other astronomical instruments.