Maria Sibylla Merian

It’s one of nature’s most marvelous life cycles – the majestic way an insect queen evolves from a small egg to larva to pupa to a flight-ready butterfly. The process is magical and at the same time surreal. 

Even today after centuries of voyages of discovery and gigabytes of knowledge, the metamorphosis process keeps fascinating us. This was also the case for a German woman, Maria Sybilla Merian born in 1647 - almost four hundred years ago.

In a time where insects were thought to appear from dust and mud alone, Merian was way ahead of her time and already in childhood found a deep and never lost interest in the world of entomology. At the age of 13 years old she even managed to raise silkworms. An enormous accomplishment at that time.

After decades of studying insects and drawing them, it must have been enormously mind blowing to see the butterflies brought back by the explorers from across the Atlantic. Her greatest wish was to study these insects in their natural habitat, which was out of the question and completely impossible for a woman to undertake at that time.

However, it was not impossible for this woman! At the age of 52 and alone with a daughter, Merian travelled to South America to the tropical areas of Suriname and there she witnessed in person the magical transformation of big bold beautiful butterflies not seen or imagined by many Europeans.

Back again in 1705 she published her work about the metamorphosis process seen in Surinamese insects. Beautifully engraved and coloured showing not only the egg, larva, pupa and butterflies, but also the leaves and plants from which the larvae’s fed off. In our collection we have chosen to use the black and white images which show intricate details.

She died in 1717 without leaving Europe ever again.

Portrait of Maria Sybilla Merian by Jacob Marell, 1679

Maria Sibylla Merian
2 April 1647 – 13 January 1717

Lived in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands
Travelled to Surinam, South America

See our collection of prints related to Maria Sibylla Merian here