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Maria Merian's Butterflies

A beautifully produced, highly illustrated collection of Maria Merian's natural history drawings.


Green Iguana


Watercolour and bodycolour with gum arabic on vellum | 27.1 x 36.5 cm (vellum sheet) | RCIN 921151

A watercolour of a Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). Merian collected many reptiles during her visit to Suriname (1699-1701) and was planning to publish a volume on Surinamese reptiles if her book on Surinamese insects (Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, 1705) proved popular. Although the Metamorphosis was a success, her plan for a second book was never realised.

Maria Sibylla Merian was the daughter of the printmaker Matthias Merian, and the step-daughter of the still-life painter Jacob Marrel. She was a talented artist, who was trained in flower painting by Marrel. From an early age, she was fascinated by insects and their life cycles, and undertook research into the phenomenon of metamorphosis, which was then only partially understood. She published her findings in a series of books, illustrated with beautifully-composed plates in which each insect life-cycle was illustrated on the appropriate food plant. In 1699, having encountered exotic insects in the cabinets of natural history collectors in Amsterdam, Merian and her younger daughter Dorothea set sail for Suriname, in South America, which was then a Dutch colony. There, they studied the life cycles of Surinamese insects until their return to Europe in 1701. Merian published her Surinamese research as the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) in 1705. The book was very well-received, and by her death Merian was well-regarded throughout Europe as both an entomologist and an artist.

This drawing is one of the ninety-four works acquired by George III as by Maria Sibylla Merian, but is more likely to be by one of her daughters, Johanna or Dorothea, both of whom were talented artists.

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