Verandering der Surinaamsche insecten

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Frankfurt in 1647. She came from a family of artists, scholars and booksellers, and had a keen interest in flowers and butterflies, which she painted on vellum. This work was held in such esteem that two collections of engravings based on her paintings of butterflies were published, in 1679 and 1683. After her divorce from the painter Johann Andreas Graff she moved with her two daughters to the Netherlands in 1685, where she soon became fascinated by the butterflies and beetles imported from the East and West Indies. So great was her interest that she decided, at the age of 52, to make a journey to Surinam to study its flora and fauna in person. She must have been a remarkable woman. She spent less time in Surinam (1699-1701) than originally planned, because the climate did not agree with her, but long enough to be able to make a large number of paintings of plants and insects. They were published in 1705 as Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. The book consists of sixty large-sized (29.5 x 39.5 cm) engravings, coloured by hand, of butterflies and other insects (but also snakes, frogs, etc.), all painted on the very plants, flowers and fruit on which they can be observed in real life. Each plate has an explanatory description. The text accompanying the plate on the opposite page focuses mostly on the banana: ‘Banana is what they call this fruit in America, and they serve as apples and have a pleasant flavour, like the apples in Holland, they taste good, cooked as well as uncooked; when they are unripe they are light green, the ripe ones are lemon yellow both inside and outside [...].’ About caterpillar, pupa and butterfly she wrote, ‘I found this light-green caterpillar on this tree, with whose leaves I have fed her till 21 April, when she shed her skin, became a little pupa, and changed into the present beautiful butterfly on 10 May.’ French and Latin editions were also published. Maria Sibylla Merian died in 1717.

Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Ofte Verandering der Surinaamsche insecten. - Tot Amsterdam, voor den auteur [...] alwaar de zelve ook gedrukt en afgezet te bekoomen zyn; als ook by Gerard Valck, [1705]. 2º. 1041 B 35, plate 12

Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Ofte Verandering der Surinaamsche insecten. - Tot Amsterdam, voor den auteur [...] alwaar de zelve ook gedrukt en afgezet te bekoomen zyn; als ook by Gerard Valck, [1705]. 2º. - 1041 B 35, plate 12

Literature

M.A. Pfeiffer. Die Werke der Maria Sibylla Merian bibliographisch zusammengestellt. Meissen 1931
J. Stuldreher-Nienhuis. Verborgen paradijzen. Het leven en de werken van Maria Sibylla Merian 1647-1717. Arnhem 1944
W. Quednau. Maria Sibylla Merian. Der Lebensweg einer grossen Künstlerin und Forscherin. Gütersloh 1961
J. Landwehr. Studies in Dutch books with coloured plates published 1662-1875. The Hague 1976, no. 128.