Merian, Maria Sibylla

Merian, Maria Sibylla märēˈä zĭbüˈlä māˈrēän [key], 1647–1717, German naturalist, entomologist, and painter of insects and flowers, b. Frankfurt; daughter of Matthäus Merian, the elder. Her earliest illustrations were of flowers, and her first books, the Blumenbuchs [books of flowers], were published 1675–80 and 1680. Her first book on insects (1679), detailing caterpillar metamorphosis, with plates she engraved and colored, for the first time depicted full life cycles and relationships to other animals and plants. She subsequently moved to Amsterdam, then went in 1699 to Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) to study tropical insects, with an emphasis on the metamorphosis of butterflies and moths. Her work on that subject (1705), illustrated with colored engravings and considered her finest accomplishment, appeared after she returned (1701). Her remarkable painting of a Guianan bird-eating spider was ridiculed as a flight of female fancy until 1863 when an English naturalist observed a similar Amazonian spider. A number of other books with her observations and illustrations were published posthumously. Her careful research, combined with her exquisite pictorial studies, mostly in watercolor, earned her considerable esteem. The British Museum has two volumes of her drawings.

See facsimile edition of her Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (2016); K. Todd, Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis (2007); D. Brafman and S. Schrader, Insects and Flowers: The Art of Maria Sibylla Merian (2008); E. Reitsma, Maria Sibylla Merian and Daughters: Women of Art and Science (2008).

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