Mobile menu

Explore the Exhibition

Portrait of Maria Sybella Merian, taken from a print

Jacobus Houbraken (1698 – 1780), Maria Sibylla Merian, 1717, Engraving. RCIN 670216 ©

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) is one of the most celebrated natural scientists of her age. She travelled a great distance in pursuit of her research. Marriage and piety took her from her native Frankfurt, via Nuremberg, to join a religious community at Waltha Castle in the north east of the Netherlands. In 1691 she left Waltha Castle and moved to the vibrant city of Amsterdam, a centre of scientific research into the natural world.

Merian’s encounter with collections of exotic specimens in Europe gave her a desire to study the life cycle of the insects of South America and in 1699 she travelled with her younger daughter to Suriname, a Dutch colony. The research Merian undertook in Suriname, published in 1705, would make her name both as an artist and as a naturalist. She brought the wonder of South American wildlife to Europe and changed the course of natural history illustration.