Mathematics has an old and well-known tradition at the University of Pavia. During the first centuries of the University, up to the reforms by Maria-Theresia and Joseph II of 1771-1786, Mathematics played a minor role, limited to the “philosophical” curriculum preparatory for Theology, Medicine and Law studies. We remember isolated figures from this period, such as Gerolamo Saccheri, a professor in Pavia from 1699 to 1733, logician and precursor of non-Euclidean geometries. Moreover, we recall Gerolamo Cardano, one of the greatest mathematicians of the Renaissance, who taught Medicine in Pavia on several occasions from 1536 to 1562, although does not appear to have taught also Mathematics.
Since 1786, after the reform, things change: Lombardia engineering and architecture studies start taking place in Pavia. This requires a considerable increase in Mathematical teachings. Indeed in 1786, Gregorio Fontana, who in 1768 replaces Ruggero Boscovich as the unique Chair of Mathematics at the University of Pavia, is joined by Lorenzo Mascheroni. Soon after, at the end of the XVII century, a crisis occurs because of political turmoil involving either Fontana and Mascheroni. The crisis gets serious after Mascheroni and Fontana’s death respectively in 1800 and 1803.
A real mathematical school begins to emerge with Vincenzo Brunacci, a professor in Pavia from 1801 up to 1818 when he dies. Gabrio Piola, Ottaviano Mossotti and Antonio Bordoni are some of Brunacci’s pupils. Bordoni replaces Brunacci from 1818? up to 1852. He educates prominent mathematicians, such as Gaspare Mainardi and Delfino Codazzi – professors in Pavia from 1840 up to 1863 and from 1865 up to 1873 respectively– and, in particular, Francesco Brioschi, who joined Bordoni as a professor from 1850 up to 1861. Bordoni and Brioschi tutor Luigi Cremona, Felice Casorati and Eugenio Beltrami, who, together with Brioschi, are the greatest Italian mathematicians of the XIX century. From the time of Bordoni up to almost the end of the century, Pavia, together with Pisa, becomes the most important mathematical Italian research center and the main point of contact with the Mathematics developed in the rest of Europe thank to two study trips: the one of Brioschi, Casorati and Betti from Pisa, who visit the prestigious institutions of Berlin, Göttingen and Paris in 1858 and the one of Casorati, who visits Berlin and Dresden in 1864.
During the unification of Italy, a new crisis marks the history of Mathematics of Pavia. Casati’s law ends engineering studies in Pavia and the foundation of the “Istituto Tecnico Superiore” (then called “Politecnico”) in Milano determines losses of students, teachers and equipment. During this period the mathematical tradition of the University of Pavia is cultivated by Casorati, who is a professor from 1857 to 1890, when he dies. His scientific isolation, which he often complains in his correspondence, ends in 1875, when Eugenio Beltrami is recalled to Pavia from Rome. In the same year, the “Scuola Normale” (or “Scuola di magistero”) is opened, initially designed as the one of Pisa, which works until the beginning of the XX century and where mathematicians from Pavia are actively involved. A few years later, in 1880, another famous mathematician, Eugenio Bertini, is recalled to Pavia. The so-called “gold period” for Mathematics of Pavia starts. Proposed by Bertini the Mathematics Library is founded during this period: at first for the students of the Scuola Normale, it becomes the original nucleus of the Institute, then Department, of Mathematics. It dates to this period the useful tradition of sending abroad the best-graduated students to boost skills, thanks to the Ministry of Education grants.
Casorati’s untimely death in 1890 abruptly ends this prosperous period. Within only two years Beltrami, and then Bertini, leave Pavia, respectively for Rome and Pisa. Nevertheless, the mathematical tradition of Pavia does not stop, thanks to the Scuola Normale which, by decree, provided an internal lecturer for mathematics, the role of promising young people who, waiting for Chairs, considered being a lecturer at the Scuola Normale a good alternative to teaching at the high schools. We remember among the scholars who hold this position for a period: Giacinto Morera, Tullio Levi-Civita, Tito Camillo Cazzaniga, Orazio Tedone, Roberto Bonola. Casorati’s Chair is held by Ernesto Pascal, a professor in Pavia from 1890 to 1907, and later by Giulio Vivanti (1907-1924), both great analysts. Carlo Somigliana (1892-1904) replaces Beltrami’s Chair of Mathematical Physics. For what concerns the Chair of Geometry we recall Luigi Berzolari, a professor in Pavia from 1899 to 1935, and Luigi Brusotti (1931-1947).
Post-World War II, different mathematicians refresh the mathematics studied in Pavia. We recall Silvio Cinquini (professor in Pavia from 1938 to 1976), Maria Cibrario (1950-1975), Vittorio Emanuele Galafassi (1953-1964) and Enrico Magenes (1959-1993). We thank the latter for the foundation of the Laboratory (later Institute) of Numerical Analysis of the CNR, now known as IMATI.