Maria Sybilla Meriaen Over de voortteeling en wonderbaerlyke veranderingen der Surinaamsche insecten (Maria Sibylla Merian on the original forms and miraculous transformations of Suriname insects) // Maria Sibylla Merian.  Amsterdam:  Jean Frederic Bernard, 1730. 

Roche Mail

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), a painter of flora and fauna, was one of the first naturalists to have observed insects directly from nature.  She was a pioneer in the study of how caterpillars become butterflies and moths, which was still a mystery at the time. Her large folio volume  depicting on its first plate Cockroaches on a Flowering Pineapple (above), was considered the most outstanding work on insects of its day. 

 Merian undertook an unusual scientific expedition at age 52, to Surinam, a Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America.  Her aim was to study indigenous flora and fauna in their tropical habitat.  She examined, recorded, and made illustrations of hundreds of rare and colorful insects and plants.  When she returned to Amsterdam, Merian developed a large folio edition of her notebooks that was first published in 1705, in Latin and Dutch.  The Cooper-Hewitt’s 1730 volume, published posthumously in Dutch, contains hand-colored copperplate engravings based on her original gouache and watercolor drawings. These c.1701-1705 drawings on vellum were purchased in 1755 by George III, when Prince of Wales, and are in the Royal Collection. 

In aesthetically pleasing images, she depicted in the same drawing all stages of the lives of insects (egg, larva, pupa and adult) around the plants that they live on or are attached to.  Her accurate and appealing pictures have inspired designers for centuries, including in 1997, those of the U.S. Postal Service, which issued two stamps featuring her designs: Cockroaches on a Flowering Pineapple, as well as Moth, Larva, Pupa and Beetle on Citron.

For more information on the artist, see the online version of the Getty Center 2008 exhibition: Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters: Women of Art and Science.


Museum Number: 
fQL466.M57x D1730 Smithsonian Libraries