Heralding the Way to a New World

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Naturalist

Work by Maria Sibylla Merian

Detail from Merian's De europische insecten [Of European insects], 1730

German-born artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) raised the artistic standard of natural history illustration and helped to transform the field of entomology. She was the first to observe and depict the process of metamorphosis in the field. During her career, she described and illustrated the life cycles of 186 insect species from direct observation, amassing evidence that contradicted the contemporary notion that insects were “born of mud” by spontaneous generation. Her first work, Der raupen wunderbare verwandlung (also known as The Caterpillar Book), was published in two volumes in Nuremberg between 1679 and 1683. It documented the complete lifecycle of European caterpillars. She continued to make observations, and Merian’s younger daughter and collaborator, Dorothea Maria, published the third volume of The Caterpillar Book shortly after Merian’s death.


In the exhibition

Maria Sibylla Merian. De europische insecten [Of European insects]. Tot Amsterdam: by J.F. Bernard, [1730]. 184 numbered, hand-colored plates on 47 leaves.

Maria Sibylla Merian. Erucarum ortus, alimentum et paradoxa metamorphosis [Caterpillar rising, food and paradoxical metamorphosis]. Amsterdam: Johannes Oosterwijk, [1718]. Variant copy of the first Latin edition of Der raupen wunderbare verwandelung und sonderbare blumennahrung [Of the marvelous transformation and strange floral food of caterpillars], with hand-colored counterproofs of the copper engravings.


All items in this exhibition are from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, Rubenstein Library, unless otherwise noted.