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Regiomontanus' angle maximization problem
In mathematics, the Regiomontanus' angle maximization problem, is a famous optimization problem
the 15th-century German mathematician Johannes Müller
(also known as Regiomontanus). The problem is as
The two dots at eye level are possible locations of the viewer's eye.
A painting hangs from a wall.
Given the heights of the top and
bottom of the painting above the
viewer's eye level, how far from
the wall should the viewer stand
in order to maximize the angle
subtended by the painting and
whose vertex is at the viewer's
If the viewer stands too close to the
wall or too far from the wall, the angle
is small; somewhere in between it is as
large as possible.
The same approach applies to finding the optimal place from which to kick a ball in rugby.
For that matter, it is not
necessary that the alignment of the picture be at right angles: we might be looking at a window of the Leaning Tower
of Pisa or a realtor showing off the advantages of a sky-light in a sloping attic roof.
Solution by elementary geometry
There is a unique circle passing
through the top and bottom of the
painting and tangent to the eye-level
line. By elementary geometry, if the
viewer's position were to move along
the circle, the angle subtended by the
painting would remain constant. All
positions on the eye-level line except
the point of tangency are outside of the
circle, and therefore the angle
subtended by the painting from those
points is smaller.
By ElementsIII.36 (alternatively the
power-of-a-point theorem), the
distance from the wall to the point of tangency is the geometric mean of the heights of the top and bottom of the
painting. This means, in turn, that if we reflect the bottom of the picture in the line at eye-level and draw the circle
with the segment between the top of the picture and this reflected point as diameter, the circle intersects the line at
eye-level in the required position (by Elements II.14).
Regiomontanus' angle maximization problem
Solution by calculus
In the present day, this problem is widely known because it appears as an exercise in many first-year calculus
textbooks (for example that of Stewart
a = the height of the bottom of the painting above eye level;
b = the height of the top of the painting above eye level;
x = the viewer's distance from the wall;
o = the angle of elevation of the bottom of the painting, seen from the viewer's position;
ß = the angle of elevation of the top of the painting, seen from the viewer's position.
The angle we seek to maximize is ß`o. The tangent of the angle increases as the angle increases; therefore it
suffices to maximize
Since b`a is a positive constant, we only need to maximize the fraction that follows it. Differentiating, we get
Therefore the angle increases as x goes from 0 to a(ab) and decreases as x increases from a(ab). The angle is
therefore as large as possible precisely when x=a(ab), the geometric mean of aandb.
Solution by algebra
We have seen that it suffices to maximize
This is equivalent to minimizing the reciprocal:
Observe that this last quantity is equal to
This is as small as possible precisely when the square is 0, and that happens when x=a(ab). Alternatively, we might
cite this as an instance of the inequality between the arithmetic and geometric means.
 Heinrich Dörrie,100 Great Problems of Elementary Mathematics. Their History And Solution, Dover, 1965, pp.369-370
 Eli Maor, Trigonometric Delights, Princeton University Press, 2002, pages 46b48
  .
 James Stewart, Calculus. Early Transcendentals, Fifth Edition, Brooks/Cole, 2003, page340, exercise58
Born 6 June 1436
Unfinden, Holy Roman Empire, now part of Königsberg, Germany
Died 6 July 1476 (aged40)
Fields Mathematics, astronomy, astrology
Alma mater University of Leipzig
University of Vienna
Academic advisors Georg von Peuerbach
Notable students Domenico Novara da Ferrara
For the lunar crater, see Regiomontanus (crater).
Johannes Müller von Königsberg (6 June 1436 b 6 July 1476), today best known by his Latin toponym
Regiomontanus, was a German mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, translator, instrument maker and Catholic
He was born in the Franconian village of Unfinden (now part of Königsberg, Bavaria) c not in the more famous
He was also known as Johannes der Königsberger (Johannes of Königsberg). His writings were published under the
toponym Joannes de Monte Regio. The name Regiomontanus was first coined by Phillip Melanchthon in 1534,
fifty-eight years after his death.
Plaque at Regiomontanus' birthplace
At eleven years of age, he became a student at the university in
Leipzig, Saxony. In 1451 he continued his studies at Alma Mater
Rudolfina, the university in Vienna, Austria. There he became a
pupil and friend of Georg von Peurbach. In 1452 he graduated BA
and was awarded his dmagister artiume(Master of Arts) at the age
of 21 in 1457 and held lectures in optics and ancient literature.
He continued to work with Peuerbach learning and extending the
then known areas of astronomy, mathematics and instrument
making until Peuerbach's death in 1461.
In 1460 the papal legate Basilios Bessarion came to Vienna on a
diplomatic mission, a humanist scholar and great fan of the
mathematical sciences Bessarion sought out Peuerbach's company. George of Trebizond who was Bessarion's
philosophical rival had recently produced a new Latin translation of Ptolemy's Almagest from the Greek, which
Bessarion, correctly, regarded as inaccurate and badly translated, so he asked Peuerbach to produce a new one.
Peuerbach's Greek was not good enough to do a translation but he knew the Almagest intimately so instead he started
work on a modernised, improved abridgement of the work. Bessarion also invited Peuerbach to become part of his
household and to accompany him back to Italy when his work in Vienna was finished. Peuerbach accepted the
invitation on the condition that Regiomontanus could also accompany them. However Peuerbach fell ill in 1461 and
died only having completed the first six books of his abridgement of the Almagest. On his death bed Peuerbach
made Regiomontanus promise to finish the book and publish it.
In 1461 Regiomontanus left Vienna with Bessarion and spent the next four years travelling around Northern Italy as
a member of Bessarion's household, looking for and copying mathematical and astronomical manuscripts for
Bessarion, who possessed the largest private library in Europe at the time. Regiomontanus also made the
acquaintance of the leading Italian mathematicians of the age such as Giovanni Bianchini and Paolo dal Pozzo
Toscanelli who had also been friends of Peuerbach during his prolonged stay in Italy more than twenty years earlier.
During his time in Italy he completed Peuerbach's Almagest abridgement, Epytoma in almagesti Ptolemei. In 1464,
he completed De Triangulis omnimodus. De Triangulis (On Triangles) was one of the first textbooks presenting the
current state of trigonometry and included lists of questions for review of individual chapters. In it he wrote:
dYou who wish to study great and wonderful things, who wonder about the movement of the stars, must read
these theorems about triangles. Knowing these ideas will open the door to all of astronomy and to certain
His work on arithmetic and algebra, Algorithmus Demonstratus, was among the first containing symbolic algebra.
In 1465, he built a portable sundial for Pope Paul II.
In Epytoma in almagesti Ptolemei, he critiqued the translation of Almagest by George of Trebizond, pointing out
inaccuracies. Later Nicolaus Copernicus would refer to this book as an influence on his own work. He went to work
for János Vitéz, archbishop of Esztergom. There he calculated extensive astronomical tables and built astronomical
instruments. Later he went to Buda, and the court of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, for whom he built an astrolabe,
and where he collated Greek manuscripts for a handsome salary.
In 1471 he moved to the Free City of Nuremberg, in Franconia, then one of the Empire's important seats of learning,
publication, commerce and art. He worked together with the humanist and merchant Bernhard Walther. Contrary to
popular belief there is no evidence that Regiomontanus ever erected an observatory,
however he did
found the world's first scientific printing press and in 1472 he published the first printed astronomical textbook, the
Theoricae novae Planetarum of his teacher Georg von Peurbach.
In 1475 he went to Rome to work with Pope Sixtus IV on calendar reform. Regiomontanus died of unknown causes
in Rome, July 6, 1476, a month after his fortieth birthday. According to a rumor repeated by Gassendi in his
Regiomontanus biography he was assassinated by relatives of George of Trebizond whom he had criticized in his
writings. More likely he died in an epidemic raging in Rome at the time.
A prolific author, Regiomontanus was internationally famous in his lifetime. Despite having completed only a
quarter of what he had intended to write, he left a substantial body of work. Nicolaus Copernicus' teacher, Domenico
Maria Novara da Ferrara, referred to Regiomontanus as having been his own teacher. There is speculation that
Regiomontanus had arrived at a theory of heliocentrism before he died; a manuscript shows particular attention to
the heliocentric theory of the Pythagorean Aristarchus, mention was also given to the motion of the earth in a letter
to a friend.
In 1561, Daniel Santbech compiled a collected edition of the works of Regiomontanus, De triangulis planis et
sphaericis libri quinque (first published in 1533) and Compositio tabularum sinum recto, as well as Santbech's own
Problematum astronomicorum et geometricorum sectiones septem. It was published in Basel by Henrich Petri and
The crater Regiomontanus on the Moon is named after him.
Regiomontanus designed his own system in the 15th century, which was one of the most popular systems in Europe
in its time.
Much of the material on spherical trigonometry in Regiomontanus' On Triangles was taken directly and without
credit from the twelfth-century work of Jabir ibn Aflah otherwise known as Geber, as noted in the sixteenth century
by Gerolamo Cardano.
 Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers, Penguin Books, 1959, pp. 212.
  , p.4
· Irmela Bues, Johannes Regiomontanus (1436a1476). In: Fränkische Lebensbilder 11. Neustadt/Aisch 1984,
· Rudolf Mett: Regiomontanus. Wegbereiter des neuen Weltbildes. Teubner / Vieweg, Stuttgart / Leipzig 1996,
· Helmuth Gericke: Mathematik im Abendland. Von den römischen Feldmessern bis zu Descartes. Springer-Verlag,
Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-540-51206-3
· Günther Harmann (Hrsg.): Regiomontanus-Studien. (= Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften,
Philosophisch-historische Klasse, Sitzungsberichte, Bd. 364; Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für Geschichte
der Mathematik, Naturwissenschaften und Medizin, volumes 28b30), Vienna 1980. ISBN 3-7001-0339-5
· Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1955.
·· Ralf Kern: Wissenschaftliche Instrumente in ihrer Zeit/Band 1. Vom Astrolab zum mathematischen Besteck.
Köln, 2010. ISBN 978-3-86560-865-9
· "Regiomontanus" (http:/ /www.bautz.de/bbkl/r/ regiomontanus. shtml). Biographisch-Bibliographisches
Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German).
· Günther (1885), " Johannes Müller Regiomontanus (http://mdz10. bib-bvb.de/ ~db/bsb00008380/ images/
index.html?seite=566)", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German) 22, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot,
· Folkerts, Menso ; Kühne, Andreas(1955)(in German)." Regiomontan(us) (http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.
de/ 0001/bsb00016318/ images/ index.html?seite=290) ". In Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB). 2. Berlin:
Duncker & Humblot. pp.270et seq..
· Adam Mosley, Regiomontanus Biography (http:/ /www.hps. cam. ac.uk/starry/regiomontanus.html), web site
at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Cambridge (1999).
· O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Regiomontanus" (http://www-history. mcs.st-andrews. ac. uk/
Biographies/Regiomontanus. html), MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews.
· Electronic facsimile-editions of the rare book collection at the Vienna Institute of Astronomy (http://www.
· Regiomontanus and Calendar Reform (http:/ /www.hps.cam.ac. uk/ starry/ regiocalen. html)
· Polybiblio: Regiomontanus, Johannes/Santbech, Daniel, ed. De Triangulis Planis et Sphaericis libri quinque.
Basel Henrich Petri & Petrus Perna 1561 (http:/ /www. polybiblio.com/ marta/ 165. html)
· Engl. Biographie bei MacTutor (http://www-groups.dcs. st-and.ac.uk/ ~history/ Mathematicians/
· Joannes Regiomontanus: Calendarium (http:/ /www. jnul. huji. ac.il/dl/books/ html/bk1262728. htm), Venedig
· Beitrag bei fAstronomie in Nürnbergd(http:// naa.net/ain/personen/ regiomontanus. asp)
· Digitalisierte Werke von Regiomontanus (http:// num-scd-ulp.u-strasbg. fr:8080/view/authors/
Regiomontanus,_Johannes. html) cSICD der Universitäten von Strasbourg
· "Regiomontanus". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.
· Baynes, T.S.; Smith, W.R., eds. (1886). "Regiomontanus". Encyclopaedia Britannica 20 (9th ed.).
· Online Galleries, History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries (http:/ /hos. ou. edu/
galleries// 15thCentury/Regiomontanus/ ) High resolution images of works by and/or portraits of Regiomontanus
in .jpg and .tiff format.
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