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Maria Sibylla Merian

Naturalist, explorer and painter

A naturalist, explorer and painter, Merian (1647-1717) is regarded as one of the most important forerunners of modern entomology due to her careful observations and illustrated descriptions of the metamorphosis of butterflies and other insects.

Her father was an artist and printmaker and it was in his studio that she learned the drawing techniques she employed to represent flowers, fruits, birds and particularly insects in extremely fine detail. Her skill was such that she had a studio of her own as a master craftswoman. She gathered a group of young women around her there and taught them to observe and draw nature. Her two daughters collaborated with her actively throughout her life.

Merian was recognised as a naturalist from her first publications, in which she portrayed the lifecycle of insects as they transform from a larva to a butterfly. In 1699, she set off on a long voyage to Surinam, formerly a Dutch colony in the Guianas, to study the exotic flora and fauna there. She presented the results in Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam), her most important work, published in 1705, which was acclaimed as a scientific success by experts in natural history.

Update: 21 May 2021