|Maria Sibylla Merian, linocut by Ele Willloughby, 2015. |
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), leading entomologist of her day,
traveller and scientific illustrator is shown complete with
pomegranate branch and the life cycle of a butterfly from
caterpillar, to chrysalis in its cocoon to butterfly, inspired by
her famous work 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium'
- a process she carefully documented and explained.
She married her step-father's apprentice Johann Andreas Graff, they had a daughter Johanna Helena, and moved to his home city of Nurenburg. She was able to contribute to the family income by painting, creating embroidery designs, and teaching drawing lessons to unmarried daughters of wealthy families, something which also allowed her access to the finest gardens where she continued collecting and documenting. She published her first book of natural illustrations, titled Neues Blumenbuch, in 1675 at age 28. In 1679, she first published her insect research in a two-volume, illustrated book focusing on insect metamorphosis. She moved twice to be with her mother after her step-father's death, then to join her half-brother at a Labadist religious community. She also split with her husband. After her mother's death, she moved to Amsterdam in 1691 and divorced her husband in 1692.
In Amsterdam, she was able to observe some of the collections of insects which had been brought back from Suriname. She became curious whether the life cycles of the exotic butterflies and other insects mirrored those Europe species she knew well. She was able to secure the city of Amsterdam's permission and and travel grant to travel to Suriname in South America, along with her younger daughter Dorothea Maria. She further funded her travels by selling 255 paintings. She planned a five year mission to study insects, making her perhaps the first person to plan a proper scientific expedition!
|Maria Sibylla Merian, from|
She suffered a stroke in 1715 which left her partially paralysed and died a pauper in 1717. Her daughter Dorothea published Erucarum Ortus Alimentum et Paradoxa Metamorphosis, a collection of her mother's work, posthumously. Both Dorothea and Johanna followed their mother's lead and became botanical illustrators.
|Copper engraving from Maria Sibylla Merian's |
Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Plate XLIX.
|Speckled caiman and a false coral snake by Maria Sibylla Merian |
Shortly after her death, Peter the Great saw and purchased a large number of her works in Amsterdam. Her portrait was printed on the 500 DM note before Germany converted to the euro. Her portrait has also appeared on a 0.40 DM stamp and two American 32 cent stamps. Many schools, place names, a scientific research vessel and a crater on Venus have been named in her honour.
One last tidbit (or two) for you history of science buffs: Dorothea's daughter, Maria Sibylla Merian's granddaughter married mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783). Maria Sibylla Merian was also first cousin to Jacob Christoph Le Blon (1667-1741), painter and engraver who invented the four colour printing process (using an RYBK color model similar to the modern CMYK system).