Maria Sibylla Merian
(1647 - 1717)
Maria Sibylla Merian is one of the most talented natural history artists of all time. Her life is even more extraordinary for the adventures and travels she undertook as a middle aged woman in the 18th Century.
Maria Sibylla Merian was born April 2, 1647 in Frankfurt am Main, the daughter of the well-known engraver and publisher Matthaus Merian the elder. Merian when Maria was just three-years old. It is part of her legend that the elder Merian predicted on his deathbed that the name of Merian would be remembered because of the genius of his daughter.
The Merian publishing business was taken over by other members of the family and Maria's mother married the Dutch flower painter Jacob Marrell, who would have a profound influence on the young girl. Marrel recognized and encouraged the talent of his step daughter, who began painting insects and plants at the age of 13.
Merian married Marrell's apprentice, Johann Andreas Graff and moved with him to Nuremberg where she continued her study of the lifecycle of caterpillars and butterflies and in 1675 published her first book,the Neues Blumenbuch -- New book of flowers.
In 1685, at the age of 38, Merian left her husband and moved into a Labidist religious colony in Friesland, where she lived in a house that belonged to Cornelis van Sommelsdijk, the governor of the newly acquired Dutch colony of Surinam. The connection with Surinam grew, after her elder daughter, Johanna Helena, moved with her merchant husband to Surinam, and in 1699 the city of Amsterdam sponsored Merian and her younger daughter to travel to the colony and undertake a study of the plants and animals there. Merian spend two years documenting the natural history of Surinam, until illness with malaria forced her to return to the Netherlands in 1701. The result of her work in Surinam was the publication in 1705 of Metamorphasibus Insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphais of the Insects of Surinam).