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ECO-VISIONARIES 15 / 06 / 2020

Introducing Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian was a naturalist who brought together art and science like no one before and she is rightly considered a pioneer in modern entomology. Born in Germany, her work explores how valuable the art of observing is, and explains how many species behave. She did it with unusual beauty, through illustrations that have become iconic in botanical art. She was a revolutionary for the standards of a time when insects were thought to be formed by spontaneous generation from a mix of mud and organic matter in decomposition. Sybilla brought light and sensibility to the darkness of the time by using vivid colours and paying striking attention to detail. The result is precious and perfect images that have been used as models to embroider and paint and also show her profound respect for the environment.


Futures in Progress Futures in Progress
Maria Sibylla Merian, A Parrot Tulip, Auriculas, and Red Currants, with a Magpie Moth, its Caterpillar and Pupa, 1647-1717/ Maria Sibylla Merian, Cereal Ear and Corn Cockle with Metamorphoses of the Five-Spot Ladybird and Blowfly, after 1683.

Her main interest was in the metamorphosis of butterflies, of which she was a pioneer. In 1679 she published her first caterpillar book: Der Raupen Wunderbare Verwandelung und Sonderbare Blumennahrung (The Caterpillars’ Marvellous Transformation and Strange Floral Food). After thorough fieldwork in the Dutch colony of Surinam, she published her most famous book in 1705: Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Metamorphosis of the insects in Surinam).

Sibylla herself explains the special attention she dedicated to this edition in the prologue of this book, taking care of all the details, and so being able to delight both art and insects enthusiasts. Her original works can be seen in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Futures in Progress Futures in Progress
Maria Sibylla Merian, Branch of Banana with Bullseye Moth 1702-03/ Maria Sibylla Merian, Butterfly, 1647-1717.