Maria Sibylla Merian

German, 1647-1717

Jane portrays Maria with the objects of her lifelong fascination: insects. From a very young age Maria collected, observed, and recorded the life cycles of these creatures. Moreover, she studied insects from live specimens, rather than adhering to the traditional method of using preserved models. As her career progressed she became known for her extensive illustrations and scientific observations of the natural world. Her dedication to the study and collection of insects culminated in an excursion to South America at the age of 52. Maria sacrificed everything for this trip, selling her home to fund it. Although she came back from South America financially destitute, the wealth of information that she collected resulted in the publication of her greatest work, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. This volume catalogued and described many species of insects indigenous to South America and was translated into several languages. The recognition Maria received—for discovering new species and innovating the process for recording the natural world—was certainly worth everything she forfeited to pursue her lifelong passion.

Whitney Chadwick, Women, Art, and Society, 3d ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 2002), 136.

Original Works Referenced

Netherlandish Master
Portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian
Öffentliche Kunstsammlung

Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium
New Haven
Yale University
The Beinecke Rare Book and
Manuscript Library