Maria Sibylla Merian
(1647 - 1717)
Maria Sibylla Merian was active/lived in Germany. Maria Merian is known for nature engravings-botany and zoology.
Maria Sibylla Merian
Biography from the Archives of askART
Born to a famous Swiss publisher, Matthaqus Merian the Elder, in Frankfurt, Germany, Maria Sibylla Merian was a talented and
well-traveled artist, who became for her engravings of
the natural world. Her works were purchased and displayed by
Peter The Great, Tzar of Russia.
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Her father died when she was three years old, and her mother married
Jacob Marell, a Flemish flower painter who became one of Maria Merian's
first teachers. She had shown talent for drawing and painting
from her early childhook, especially plants and animals. In 1670,
Merian was married to Johann Andreas Graff, a painter, and they moved
to Nuremberg, where she was able to publish books she had
illustrated. Included was a catalogue of European butterflies and
moths and other insects, which she had completed from first-hand
observation of live insects she had collected and raised. This
method was pioneering as previous to her work, illustration of that
kind had been done with preserved specimens.
In 1685, she left Nuremberg, having divorced her husband, and she lived
with her two daughters and widowed mother in West Friesland, a Dutch
province. Upon her mother's death, Merian went to
Amsterdam. Then at the age of fifty-two, in 1699, she did
something else that was totally revolutionary. As a single woman,
she took one of her daughters and, without male companions for
'protection', they traveled to the Dutch colony of Surinam in South
America, a journey that took three months. The purpose was to
study natural habitats of plants and animals. Once there, she
spent several years observing and drawing the subjects she had
seen. Forced to return home because of an outbreak of malaria in
the country, she published a "lavishly illustrated" book in 1705.
Titled, Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam,
"established her international reputation." The book had eighty-two
full page illustrations, which were hand-colored engravings done from
her watercolors of a smaller scale. With each image, she had the
entire life cycle of each animal and plant, "arranged with great
sensitivity so that every picture is both scientifically useful and
aesthetically satisfying." She also wrote text for facing pages for
each illustration, describing the image and the creatures that use it
for food. A later edition
was published posthumously with a different title: Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam.
Nancy Heller, "Maria Sibylla Merian", Women Artists: Works from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, p. 28
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