Textual description of firstImageUrl

Maria Sibylla Merian | Baroque Era Illustrator

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was a German naturalist and scientific illustrator.
She was one of the earliest European naturalists to observe insects directly. Merian was a descendant of the Frankfurt branch of the Swiss Merian family.
Merian received her artistic training from her stepfather, Jacob Marrel, a student of the still life painter Georg Flegel.
Merian published her first book of natural illustrations in 1675.

She had started to collect insects as an adolescent. At age 13, she raised silkworms.
In 1679, Merian published the first volume of a two-volume series on caterpillars; the second volume followed in 1683.
Each volume contained 50 plates that she engraved and etched.
Merian documented evidence on the process of metamorphosis and the plant hosts of 186 European insect species.

Along with the illustrations Merian included descriptions of their life cycles.
In 1699, Merian travelled to Dutch Guiana to study and record the tropical insects native to the region.
In 1705, she published Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium.
Merian's Metamorphosis has been credited with influencing a range of naturalist illustrators.

Because of her careful observations and documentation of the metamorphosis of the butterfly, Merian is considered by David Attenborough to be among the more significant contributors to the field of entomology.
She discovered many new facts about insect life through her studies.
Until her careful, detailed work, it had been thought that insects were "born of mud" by spontaneous generation.

Research in Suriname

In 1699, Merian travelled to Dutch Surinam to study and record the tropical insects.
The pursuit of her work in Suriname was an unusual endeavour, especially for a woman.

In general, only men received royal or government funding to travel in the colonies to find new species of plants and animals, make collections and work there, or settle.
Scientific expeditions at this period of time were not common, and Merian's self-funded expedition raised many eyebrows.

She succeeded, however, in discovering a whole range of previously unknown animals and plants in the interior of Suriname.
Merian spent time studying and classifying her findings and described them in great detail.
She not only described the insects she found, but also noted their habitat, habits and uses to indigenous people.

Her classification of butterflies and moths is still relevant today.

She used Native American names to refer to the plants, which became used in Europe:

"I created the first classification for all the insects which had chrysalises, the daytime butterflies and the nighttime moths.
The second classification is that of the maggots, worms, flies, and bees.
I retained the indigenous names of the plants, because they were still in use in America by both the locals and the Indians".

Merian's drawings of plants, frogs, snakes, spiders, iguanas, and tropical beetles are still collected today by amateurs all over the world.
The German word Vogelspinne - (a spider of the infraorder Mygalomorphae), translated literally as bird spider - probably has its origins in an engraving by Merian.
The engraving, created from sketches drawn in Suriname, shows a large spider who had just captured a bird. In the same engraving and accompanying text Merian was the first European to describe both army ants and leaf cutter ants as well as their effect on other organisms.

Merian's depictions of tropical ants were subsequently cited and copied by other artists.
Her depictions of the struggle among organisms predate Charles Darwin and Lord Tennyson's theories on the struggle for survival and evolution.

In 1705, three years after returning from her expedition, she published Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium.

Metamorphosis first was published at her own expense.

Merian had returned from Suriname with sketches and notes. As the word spread among scholars in Amsterdam, visitors came to view her paintings of exotic insects and plants. She noted "Now that I had returned to Holland and several nature-lovers had seen my drawings, they pressured me eagerly to have them printed. They were of the opinion that this was the first and most unusual work ever painted in America".
With the assistance of her daughters Johanna and Dorothea, Merian put together a series of plates.
She did not make the printing plates herself this time, but hired three printmakers to do the engraving. She supervised the work closely.

To pay for this work she advertised for subscribers, who were willing to give her money in advance for a hand-painted deluxe edition of the Metamorphosis.
Twelve subscribers paid in advance to receive the expensive hand-painted edition, while a less expensive printed edition in black and white was also published.
After her death the book was reprinted in 1719, 1726 and 1730, finding a larger audience.
It was published in German, Dutch, Latin and French.

Merian contemplated publishing the book in English, so that she could present it to the queen of England.
She mused "It is reasonable for a woman to make such a gift to a person of the same sex". But nothing came of the plan.

Metamorphosis and the tropical ants Merian documented were cited by the scientists René Antoine, August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof, Mark Catesby and George Edwards.
Merian's Metamorphosis has been credited with influencing a range of naturalist illustrators.

Merian also documented the medicinal use of plants and animals by the people of Suriname. She documented among others that the sap from a palm was used rubbed into itchy scalps to treat worm infections.
Merian also took an interest in agriculture and among the local fruit she showcased was the pineapple.
When describing the pineapple Merian cited several standard works on natural history, which first had documented the fruit, such as Historia Naturalis Brasilae by Willem Piso and Georg Marggraf, Hortus Malabaricus by Hendrik van Rheede, and Medici Amstelodamensis by Caspar Commelin.
While the pineapple had been drawn before, Merian's became the most prominent.

She provided information on how the butterflies and cockroaches affected crops and agriculture in the colony.
While documenting the botany of Suriname, Merian continued to record the metamorphosis of insects.
Suriname's insects were shown throughout their entire life cycle and on their plant host.

A significant number of Merian's paintings combining a plant, caterpillar and butterfly are simply decorative, and make no attempt to describe the life cycle.
For instance, the Gulf fritillary is shown with a vanilla plant, an orchid from the Americas, which is definitely not the host plant, and with the caterpillar of some other species.
This problem recurs in many of her illustrations.

An attempt to identify the insects and plants in a recent facsimile edition of her Suriname book was able to determine a number of species, although Merien usually gets the food plants wrong, makes numerous mistakes in depicting the morphology, and usually pairs the wrong species of caterpillar with its imago.
Her drawings are part of the scientific exploration by Europeans.

Early taxonomy of tropical plants relied on images or specimens.
Following her return to Amsterdam the images she had made were used by Carl Linnaeus and others to identify one hundred or so new species.

At the time there was no standardised scientific terminology to name plants and animals, so Merian used common everyday European words to describe Surinam's animals, such as silkworm or wasp. As such, she referred to butterflies as "summer birds".
Linnaeus used Merian's drawings to describe 56 animals and 39 plants from Suriname, including the tarantula, in 1735 and 1753.
In reference to her research, Linnaeus abbreviated her name into Mer.surin. for animals from Surinam, and Mer.eur. for European insects.

Merian was the first European woman to independently go on a scientific expedition in South America.
In the 19th century Ida Pfeiffer, Alexine Tinne, Florence Baker, Mary French Sheldon, Mary Henrietta Kingsley and Marianne North followed in her footsteps and explored the natural world of Africa. Margaret Fountaine studied butterflies on five continents.

Merian's scientific expedition of Surinam predated Alexander von Humboldt's famous South America expedition by 100 years, and that of Princess Theresa of Bavaria by 200 years.
Merian's publication on her expedition was later identified as a key exponent of illustrated geographical publications originating in Holland in the late 17th century, which marketed an exotic but accessible New World to Europeans. | Source: © Wikipedia

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) è stata una naturalista e pittrice Tedesca.

La Metamorfosi degli insetti del Suriname, che viene definita "l'opera più bella mai dipinta in America".

«Realizzando quest’opera, non ho mirato al guadagno, contentandomi di rifarmi delle spese sostenute. Non ho badato a spese per eseguire quest’opera. Ho fatto incidere le tavole da un celebre maestro e ho procurato al libro la carta migliore per portare soddisfazione e piacere non solo agli amatori dell'arte ma anche agli amatori degli insetti e sono felice sentendo di aver raggiunto il mio scopo e di aver loro procurato della gioia» - Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Introduzione.

Il lavoro fatto da Maria Sibylla Merian è notevole.
In effetti, in quel tempo, era inusuale occuparsi d'insetti - le bestie di Satana.
La metamorfosi degli animali era poco nota, essendo ipotesi corrente che essi nascessero dal fango; anche se alcuni eruditi conoscevano il reale processo di metamorfosi, la maggior parte - anche delle persone colte - lo ignorava; aver pubblicato Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung in tedesco, e non in latino, da un lato le procurò una certa notorietà fra i ceti più in alto nella società, ma non la rese attendibile fra gli uomini di scienza, essendo il latino l'unica lingua accettata dalla comunità scientifica.

Insieme con la Metamorfosi, Maria Sibylla Merian descrisse molti altri particolari dello sviluppo vitale degli insetti, mostrando come ogni specie di farfalla nello stato di crisalide dipendesse da un piccolo numero di piante per il proprio nutrimento, venendo solo in quelle rilasciate le uova.

Anche l'iniziativa di intraprendere un viaggio di studio in Suriname fu un'assoluta novità. Generalmente chi si interessava di botanica o di entomologia, viaggiava nelle colonie o per stabilirvisi o per trovarvi nuovi insetti e farne collezione a scopo commerciale: i viaggi scientifici erano invece estremamente rari. Merian scoprì nell'interno del Suriname tutta una serie di specie animali e vegetali del tutto sconosciute in Europa, studiandole e rappresentandole nei dettagli:

«Ho creato una prima classificazione per tutti gli insetti che si sviluppano dalla crisalide, le farfalle diurne e notturne.
Una seconda classificazione riguarda i bruchi, i vermi, le mosche e le api. Ho mantenuto il nome delle piante, originarie dell'America, dato dagli indigeni» - Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, Introduzione.

I suoi disegni di piante, serpenti, ragni, iguane e coleotteri tropicali sono tuttora considerati dei capolavori e vengono ricercati dai collezionisti di tutto il mondo.
Il vocabolo tedesco Vogelspinne - migale, letteralmente ragno-uccello - trae l'origine da un'incisione di Merian, realizzata nei suoi schizzi in Suriname.
L'incisione rappresenta un grosso ragno che cattura un uccello.
Tuttavia, non si conoscono ad oggi casi di migali cacciatrici di uccelli.

Sofferente di cuore già dal 1711, Maria Sibylla Merian muore d'infarto ad Amsterdam, settantenne, nel 1717. | Fonte: © Wikipedia