Maria Sibylla Merian

2 April 1647 – 13 January 1717

One of the world's most important botanical artists

Considered by Sir David Attenborough to be among the most important contributors to the field of entomology, Maria Sibylla Merian was a true pioneer in both art and natural history.

Best known for her illustrations of plants and insects; Merian was the first to record the process of metamorphosis – observing and recording the lifecycle of the butterfly.

In her lifetime, Merian recorded and illustrated the lifecycle of 186 insect species. Her achievements are even more noteworthy, given that she began her work in the 17th century, at a time when women were strongly discouraged from entering the fields of art and science.

Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany and grew up within a middle-class family of artists and publishers. Her father, who was a painter, engraver and publisher, died when Merian was just three and her mother later married the German painter Jacob Marrel.

Marrel introduced the young Merian to painting; teaching her how to draw, mix paints, paint in watercolour and make prints; all alongside his male pupils.

Caterpillars, butterflies and moths

While developing her artistic talents, Merian’s interests turned to the insect world and she began carefully observing the world of caterpillars, butterflies and moths. By the age of 13, Merian had observed the metamorphosis of a silkworm.

Merian’s discovery that insects are born from eggs pre-dates published accounts by almost 10 years. Until this time, it was commonly believed that caterpillars and other insects were spontaneously created from dirt and mud.

With the encouragement of her stepfather, Merian began describing and illustrating the insects she studied. As well as discovering the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly, Merian also discovered that every species of caterpillar feeds on a certain plant.

In her drawings, we see how Merian strived to illustrate the caterpillar alongside its preferred plant, its cocoon and the resulting butterfly.

Merian married and had two daughters. The family made Nuremberg their home and here Merian continued her entomological research and drawings.

Sailing to Suriname

Merian was keen to discover even more so in 1699 she sailed to the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America with her younger daughter Dorothea Maria.

The jungles of South America provided an abundance of species for Merian to study. It is here that she began the work for her most acclaimed publication Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium about the insects of Suriname.

She also observed the treatment of slaves by the Dutch colonists, providing important accounts of life in the area.

In 1701, poor health forced Merian to return home. With her she brought many sketches, mounted butterflies and live caterpillars. Back in Europe, Merian completed her drawings and notes, with the first edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium published in 1705.

Merian died on 13th January 1717. But the important contribution she made to the world of science means her legacy will never be forgotten. Her image once appeared on a German banknote and a Dutch butterfly was named after her.

Merian’s acclaimed publication Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium was first published by Merian herself in 1705. It was originally available in a Latin or a Dutch version, with colored and uncolored copies.

The foreword to the book was written by Merian and is addressed to the reader, giving information about her ideas and the creation of the book.

Merian’s illustrations from Suriname show colourful butterflies, caterpillars and ants, as well as exotic fruits and vegetables.

After Merian’s death, her daughter Dorothea sold her mother’s volumes and plates to the Amsterdam publisher Joannes Oosterwijk. He republished the work in 1719 with several new plates, including some based on information from the Dutch zoologist Albertus Seba.

No more than 30 copies of Merian’s masterpiece are now left worldwide but we can offer you the opportunity to own your own complete collection, reproduced directly from the originals.

Own your own Merian giclée prints

Our collection is a recreation of the second edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium and therefore contains all 72 prints, taken from the hand-coloured originals.

An authentic facsimile of the original work, these prints are faithful to the original in every way, matching the size, colors and detail of Merian’s originals.

Each giclée print is created using fine art digital printing processes, with the highest possible resolution, to produce images that are identical to the originals.

With age-resistant white etching paper and archival ink; these prints are designed to resist fading for 100 years, giving you a lifetime of enjoyment from Merian’s extraordinary collection.

Solander Box

When investing in the complete Merian set, you can also choose our beautiful Solander box as the perfect place to store your collection.

This high-quality box is designed especially for keeping your prints safe and in perfect condition – yet you can still easily look at them whenever you wish. 

You will also receive our Certificate of Authenticity. This shows all the details of your artwork and gives you valuable certification if you ever wish to sell or bequeath your collection in the future.