Hand-colored engraving
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647—1717).
Metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium . . . Dissertation sur la generation et les transformations des insectes de Surinam.
The Hague: Pierre Gosse, 1726
Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library

 
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Maria Sibylla Merian was one of the world's great entomologists, working both as an author and as an illustrator. A woman of great independence, she came from a long line of European engravers. Her first important work, Der Raupen wonderbare Verwandelung [Wondrous Transformation of Caterpillars], appeared in 1679. It included 186 European moths, butterflies, and other insects, each depicted in all stages of metamorphosis, along with the particular plant it selected for feeding and to lay its eggs. These she drew from life rather than from preserved specimens. She then became interested in the insects of the Dutch colony of Surinam (Dutch Guiana) in northern South America through her oldest daughter, Johanna Helena, who had married a merchant involved in trade with the colony, and from seeing specimens of Surinam insects in Dutch collections.

In 1699, after leaving her husband and selling a collection of her paintings to finance the voyage, she and her youngest daughter, Dorothea Maria, went to Surinam, spending two years drawing and painting insects, flowers, fruit, and reptiles. After returning to Amsterdam, she produced her greatest work, On the Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, following a format similar to that of her first book on insects.


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