Mobile menu

Maria Sibylla Merian

Print depicting half-length portrait of middle-aged lady with headress, facing 3/4 to right. Arms rest on ledge gesturing towards potted plant. To left in front of ledge images of sea shells and flowers. Curtain draped behind.

Maria Sibilla Merian ©

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was one of the greatest artist-naturalists of her time. From childhood she had been fascinated by the life cycles of butterflies, and she made a close study of their transformations. She became a flower-painter and teacher in Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Inspired by exotic specimens imported from the Dutch colonies for the natural history collections of Holland, in 1699, at the age of fifty-two, Merian made an expedition to Surinam (Dutch Guiana) in South America. Her aim was to study the indigenous flora and fauna in their tropical habitat. On her return to Amsterdam two years later, she began work on a lavishly illustrated book, the Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (‘The Metamorphoses of the Insects of Surinam’, published in 1705), depicting the life cycles of the region’s insects.

Most of Merian’s watercolours displayed here are de luxe versions (painted on vellum) of the plates of the Metamorphosis, together with some works produced independently of that publication.

The 95 watercolours by Merian in the Royal Collection were bought in 1755 by George III, when Prince of Wales.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Pineapple with Cockroaches

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Swamp Immortelle with Giant Silk Moth

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Branch of Banana with Bullseye Moth

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Grape Vine with Gaudy Sphinx Moth

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Shoreline Purslane and Suriname Toad

Workshop of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

White-Throated Toucan

Workshop of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

False Coral Snake, Banded Cat-Eyed Snake and frogs

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Marsh Marigold with the life stages of a frog

Workshop of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Ornate Lory on a branch of Peach

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Golden Tegu lizard

Workshop of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Still life with flowers tied at the stems

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium