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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 - 1717)

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt, the daughter of Matthias Merian, a successful printmaker. On her father’s death in 1650, her mother married the still-life artist Jacob Marrel (1613/1614–1681), who taught the young Merian to paint flowers in  watercolour. From an early age Merian also pursued a fascination with the insect life cycle, then only partially understood.

Map showing Europe and South America

Map showing the major centres of Merian's career ©

Portrait of Maria Sybella Merian, taken from a print

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

In 1679 she published Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (The Wonderful Transformation of Caterpillars and their Particular Plant Nourishment) in which her findings were shown as innovative still-life compositions. Her early works were undertaken with her husband, the artist Johann Andreas Graff, but by 1685 the two had separated and Merian had joined a religious community in the Netherlands.

In 1691, Merian moved to Amsterdam with her two daughters, Dorothea and Johanna, also talented artists. In Amsterdam, Merian found a lively community of natural historians, who encouraged her research. She developed an interest in the exotic insects which were brought to the city, particularly those from Suriname in South America, then a Dutch colony. In 1699 she undertook the arduous journey to Suriname with Dorothea, to study insects in their natural habitat. The resulting publication, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) ensured Merian’s fame across Europe.

All quotations from Merian’s work are taken from Elizabeth Rücker and William Stearn, Maria Sibylla Merian in Surinam, 1982

Workshop of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Still life with flowers tied at the stems

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Provence Rose

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Milk Thistle

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Marsh Marigold with the life stages of a frog