Sunday, August 30, 2015

1600s Woman Artist - Maria Sibylla Merian (German Natural History artist, 1647-1717)



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Branch of guava tree with leafcutter ants, army ants, pink-toed tarantulas, c. 1701-5

German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) & her daughters Johanna Helena & Dorothea Maria raised the artistic standards of natural history illustration & helped transform the field of entomology, the study of insects.  From about 1450, European artists began to record the details of insects, animals, flowers, & plants. Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany, into a family of publishers & artists. Her father, Matthäus Merian the Elder, published some of the most influential natural history texts of the 1600s.  Merian's stepfather, artist & teacher Jakob Marrel introduced his young daughter Merian to the art of miniature flower painting against her mother's will. Merian learned how to draw, mix paints, paint in watercolor, & create prints alongside her stepfather's traditional male pupils.


Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Passion flower plant and flat-legged bug, c. 1701-5

Merian married her stepfather's favorite pupil, Johann Andreas Graff (German, 1636–1701), at the age of 18. In 1670, 5 years after her marriage to the painter Johann Andreas Graff, the family moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first illustrated books.  There, while having 2 daughters of her own, she also instructed her girls & the daughters of neighbors in embroidery & painting.  By 1686, Merian left her husband moving with her 2 daughters & elderly, widowed mother to a religious community in the Dutch province of West Friesland. When this religious community collapsed in 1691, Merian & her daughters moved to Amsterdam, the center of world trade & 3rd largest city in Europe. Johanna Helena & Dorothea Maria learned their mother's art. The 3 women set up a studio together, painting plants, birds, & insects.


Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Vine branch and black grapes, with moth, caterpillar and chrysalis of gaudy sphinx, 1701-5

Merian's artistic and scientific interests outgrew Amsterdam's supply of exotic plants & animals. In 1699, the city of Amsterdam helped sponsor the 52-year-old Merian's travel to Surinam along with her younger daughter, Dorothea Maria, age 21. Before departing, she wrote:

"In Holland, I noted with much astonishment what beautiful animals came from the East and West Indies. I was blessed with having been able to look at both the expensive collection of Doctor Nicolaas Witsen, mayor of Amsterdam and director of the East Indies society, and that of Mr. Jonas Witsen, secretary of Amsterdam. Moreover I also saw the collections of Mr. Fredericus Ruysch, doctor of medicine and professor of anatomy and botany, Mr. Livinus Vincent, and many other people. In these collections I had found innumerable other insects, but finally if here their origin and their reproduction is unknown, it begs the question as to how they transform, starting from caterpillars and chrysalises and so on. All this has, at the same time, led me to undertake a long dreamed of journey to Suriname."


Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Surinam Caiman Fighting a South American False Coral Snake 1699-1703 from The Insects of Suriname, 1719

Maria Sibylla Merian died in 1717. Near the time of her death, her watercolors were purchased for Czar Peter the Great of Russia. Shortly thereafter, Dorothea published a 3rd volume of her mother's The Caterpillar Book with 50 more of her mother's observations with an appendix on insects observed by Johanna Helena, who had moved to Suriname in 1711.  Around 1718, Dorothea moved to Saint Petersburg, where she continued to work as an artist.  Dorothea sold the plates of The Insects of Suriname to a Dutch publisher, who reissued the book in 1719 with 12 additional plates. Thanks to her daughters' continued diligence, Merian left a lasting mark on entomology. The images in this posting are attributed to Merian & perhaps to her daughters.


Unknown artist, Portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717)



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Wooly-haired Megalopygio Caterpiller





Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Iguana and Coral Snake



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium 1705



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Lizard



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Metamorphosis of the Insects - Grapefruit



 Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Botanical



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Botanical



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Plum Tree with Blue Moth 1705



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Lizard and Banana



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) From Transformations of the insects of Surinam 1705



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) From Transformations of the insects of Surinam 1705



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Metamorphosis of the Insects



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium 1705



Maria Sibylla Merian (German artist, 1647-1717) Botanical



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