Botanical Art – Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)



Maria Sibylla Merian had an early interest in insects and grew up around artistic family members. Her biological father was an engraver and publisher by trade. Unfortunately he died when she was quite young but her mother remarried Jacob Marrel who was a still life and flower painter. He subsequently taught and encouraged Maria to draw and paint. During the 1600's there was a growing interest in botanical accuracy which led to a joining of forces between the artist and scientist. Research started to be documented through the highly detailed etchings and drawings. This was important as the population in Europe was expanding. With that new agricultural methods were being sought and an interest in both ornamental and medicinal plants emerged. Explorers often included artists, physicians, biologists and more on their expeditions to record data. Maria was a woman who had the opportunity to partake in one such excursion. As one of the most well known naturalists and scientific illustrators at this time she was given a grant to travel to Dutch Surinam. Upon her return she published "Metomorphosis insectorum Surinamensium" perhaps her greatest accomplishment. This publication detailed the stages of change of the caterpillar to butterfly. This work along with other publications put Merian in the category of being one of the most well know natuaralists and scientific illustrators. She became a leader in entomology (the study of insects).

Etching with watercolor from "Metamorphosis ..."

For Merian the process of writing and creating these visual records was said to have been a form of prayer. Butterflies are also found in many still life paintings throughout history and were religious symbols of the soul and the resurrection of Christ. Merian's work is beautiful in it's detail and orchestration. There's quite a bit of information on her if you are interested in learning more.

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