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MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN 1647-1717
MARIA SIBYLLA MERIAN 1647-1717

The watercolor paintings in MIS are from the collection owned by the Russian Royal family. They provided the proof that the plates illustrating Rumphius’ Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet were the original work of Merian.

From the Linda Hall Library.
From the Linda Hall Library.
From the Linda Hall Library.

Merian’s interest in metamorphosis was not limited to insects. She observed the lifecycle of frogs as they developed from eggs into tadpoles. In order to study these changes closely, she used brandy as a preservative, capturing the moment the tadpoles emerged from eggs.

 



Merian came from the tradition of flower painting, but she was foremost a scientist: she was one of the first to study metamorphosis and one of the first to publish images of tropical plants, the first to understand and describe the relationships between animals along with their host plants. The work produced from her Surinam voyage was remarkably influential. Linneaus cited her more than a hundred times in his Species Plantarum and Systema Naturae. Two plant genera have been named for her. Many species have been named for her, including one flower by Alexander von Humboldt who had his portrait painted with it.


Back among her scientific circle in Amsterdam, physically and financially exhausted, she began the work of turning her paintings into copperplates for her Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. With resources depleted and the publication of her greatest work still ahead of her, Merian was approached by supporters of the naturalist Georg Everard Rumpf. By the time he was 42 years old Rumpf was blind from glaucoma, but he continued to produce detailed manuscripts of his observations. Merian accepted the commission to ghost illustrate Georg Rumpf’s posthumous D'Amboinsche Rariteitkamer. She also raised funds by selling watercolors and specimens from her Surinam trip. There was such an avid desire for these curiousities by the general public that together with her daughter Joanna and Joanna’s husband, she established a transatlantic import business. With this support, the first 60 plates of the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium were published in a Dutch edition in 1705, followed by editions in Latin and French. These were eventually to be followed by a 1719 posthumous edition of 72 plates.

Maria Sibylla Merian: page 3 of 3