Maria Sibylla Merian “Plate CXXXVII (Willow, Salix, Caterpillar, Moth)” From Histoire des Insectes de L’Europe. Amsterdam: Jean Frederic Bernard, 1730. Approx. 6 x 4 5/8. Engraving. Lovely hand color. Very good condition.
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An original antique print by Maria Sibylla Marian. As the step-granddaughter of Johann Theodor de Bry and the daughter of the well-known engraver Matthaus Merian the elder, and then step-daughter of botanical artist Jacob Marrel, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was well suited to become one of the most notable natural history print-makers. Known not only as an accomplished artist, but as a respected entomologist, Merian was the first to illustrate the full metamorphoses of many species of butterflies and moths.
From an early age, Maria collected and drew images of insects, taking the innovative approach of looking at the full lifecycle of her subjects. After marrying Johann Andreas Graff, one of Marrel’s apprentices, Maria achieved success as a flower painter and engraver, producing three books of flower prints between 1675 and 1680. Her interest in entomology continued and between 1679 and 1883, she produced Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung, [The Caterpillar’s wondrous metamorphosis and extraordinary nourishment from flowers], which were well received.
At the age of fifty-one, Merian divorced her husband and took her daughter Dorothea to the Dutch colony of Surinam in South America. After two years of observation, Maria returned to Europe where she published her important work, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium in 1705. In 1712, Merian began an expanded, Dutch edition of her earlier work on European insects, but this was not completed, for sadly, while in Surinam Maria had contracted a tropical illness, from which she never recovered. In 1715, she suffered a stroke and died in poverty two years later. However, her two daughters worked to complete this work, which was completed in 1717, appearing later in Latin and French editions. This print is from the latter edition and it documents Merian’s skill both as a natural scientist and an artist.