Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium by Maria Sibylla Merian is a beautifully illustrated book about plants and insects in Surinam from 1705. It is so beautiful that Uitgeverij Lannoo made a facsimile of it in 2016. As a result, this extraordinary book is now available for sale to everyone.

About Maria Sibylla Merian, creator of Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt in 1647. She came from a family of artists, scholars and booksellers. She learned the art of engraving from her father, stepfather and stepbrothers.

In 1665 she married the painter Johann Andreas Graf. She became interested in insects. With a lot of patience she grew caterpillars into butterflies. She studied the process and recorded everything in words and images. She did this in two books about caterpillars, which she published together with her husband in 1679 and 1683.

When her marriage began to falter, she moved to the Netherlands with her 2 daughters and her mother in 1685. In the meantime, she became fascinated by the giant butterflies from Suriname. That is why, after 14 years in the Netherlands, she decided to travel to Suriname with her daughter to personally study the flora and fauna there.

She stayed in Suriname for less time than she wanted. After 2 years she became ill and had to return to Europe. Yet she was there long enough to make many beautiful paintings of plants and insects.

  • Maria Sibylla Merian, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Ofte Verandering der Surinaamsche insecten. Amsterdam, 1705.

About Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

The result of her research, the Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, was published in 1705. The book consists of 60 large colored engravings of butterflies and other insects. All caterpillars and butterflies are depicted on the plant they prefer to eat. Merian drew the caterpillars, the chrysalis and the butterflies in full size. Each plate is accompanied by a scientific description.

All her drawings were transferred to copper engravings. These were then colored by hand. Merian also used a special technique, counter pressure. The result was almost indistinguishable from an original watercolor.

The book was already a great success at that time. Editions were even published in French and Latin.

How can you browse Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium?

Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium can be viewed digitally via the KB website. Images of this masterpiece can be viewed via Wikimedia Commons. A facsimile was also released by Lannoo in 2016. As a result, this special book is now for sale to everyone. The request number of this masterpiece is KW 1792 A 19.

Read more about Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium


  • Landwehr, J. Studies in Dutch books with coloured plates published 1662-1875. Den Haag, 1976.
  • Merian, M.S. Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Facsimile met inleiding. Lannoo, 2016.
  • Pfeiffer, M.A. Die Werke der Maria Sibylla Merian bibliographisch zusammengestellt. Meissen, 1931.
  • Quednau, W. Maria Sibylla Merian. Der Lebensweg einer grossen Künstlerin und Forscherin. Gütersloh, 1961.
  • Stuldreher-Nienhuis, J. Verborgen paradijzen. Het leven en de werken van Maria Sibylla Merian 1647-1717. Van Loghum Slaterus, 1944.

Want to know more?

Esther van Gelder
Curator for Incunabula