To all Lovers and Investigators of Nature: Maria Sibylla Merian; 1647-1717

Repeating Islands


A report by Gabriel Sewell for ILAB.

2017 marked the 300th anniversary of the death of the German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, one of the most celebrated natural scientists of her time. From an early age she pursued a fascination with the insect life cycle, then only partially understood. Merian was the first to bring together insects and their habitats and the knowledge she collected (particularly in Suriname) provided important insights into medicine and science.

Maria Sibylla Merian was brought up in Protestant Frankfurt, the youngest daughter of Matthäus Merian, a Swiss-born printmaker and draughtsman. Matthäus owned a flourishing publishing house that specialised in lavishly illustrated books. Following his death in 1650, Merian’s mother married still-life painter Jacob Marrell who encouraged his stepdaughter’s talent. As a young girl Maria Sibylla Merian painted flowers, before becoming obsessed with caterpillars and how they metamorphosed into moths and butterflies.


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