Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2021 Issue

Maria Sibylla Merian, A Rare Species Of Woman

69efc6e5-4591-46e1-a923-0f7522988a78

Image from the National Library of France collection.

 

The Bilbiothèque Nationale de France, or French National Library (BNF) ran a series of portraits of “singular women” on their website last March. It featured the extraordinary Maria Sibylla Merian. The BNF gave access to her digitized engravings dedicated to naturalism. For those who don’t know her, suffice to say that she was a hell of a woman! Well, it doesn’t suffice, actually. Let’s explore her life of exploration.

 


 

 

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) led an incredible life of passion and liberty—especially for a woman of her time. Born in Germany in a family of artists (she was the daughter of renowned engraver Matthaüs Merian the Older), she developed a taste for painting from a very young age. She was 8 when she drew her first watercolours, representing the caterpillars she’d observe in her garden. When her father died, her mother remarried Jacob Marrell, a painter who taught his stepchildren how to paint. Maria was also the cousin of Jacob Christoph Le Blon, who invented the first process for printing in three colours. As Pauline Laurent and Luc Menapace underline on their BNF blog dedicated to Merian: “The fact that Maria Sibylla mastered engraving technics is tightly linked to her familial and professional backgrounds.”

 

Maria Sibylla moved to Nuremberg with her husband, where she published her first work in 1679, a series of engravings showing the relationship between caterpillars and their respective host plants. At 38, she did an incredible thing for the time: she divorced her husband. Actually, the BNF states: “She declared herself a widow while her husband was still alive.” She joined a Jesuit congregation in Holland with her daughter, where she came across a collection of butterflies that came from the Dutch colony of Surinam, in South America. She then took another unbelievable step: aged 52, she embarked for Paramaribo, Surinam—a naturalist trip.

 

Travellers were few in the late 17th century; learnt ones even fewer—learnt and lone travellers even more so—and female learnt lone travellers were simply nonexistent except for Maria Sibylla Merian. She was with her daughter, actually; but by “lone” we mean without official appointment. The two women reached Paramaribo in July 1699 and Maria started to explore her surroundings, drawing every insect and plant she’d come across. “Mocked by the European colonists who cared about nothing but the cultivation of sugar,” Laurent and Menapace write, “she became close to the African slaves and the Natives.” After all, she belonged herself to what we call today a “minority”.

 

By 1701, she was back to Amsterdam with her daughter. She took several years to complete her masterpiece, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705)—a series of 60 engravings. She published it herself, raising the necessary funds by selling her original paintings. The BNF website underlines: “The book didn’t sell well, but it brought her posthumous recognition.” Laurent and Menapace add: “Most of the insects, amphibians and reptiles represented there were unknown to naturalists (...). She also introduced several unknown, or ill known vegetal species such as the red water willow (Pachystachys coccinea).” Her engravings are stunning because they are at the crossroad between naturalism and art. As shown with the digitized copies on the BNF website, they are gorgeous, powerful and intense—in a word, lively. “Her works (most of them published after she died by her daughter) remained a reference in the domain of scientific illustration for centuries,” Laurent and Menapace sum up. “She proved it was possible to represent small animals and insects by blowing them up on paper as long as they remained in proportions with their environment. As a matter of fact, she was the very first one to draw the species she studied directly in their natural habitats.” Totally forgotten during the 19th century, she’s been revived for the past 50 years. Reprints of her books are now available and wallpapers are even made out of her drawings.

One of the most crucial creatures described in her works is probably a very rare, and now extinct species of woman—let’s call it Mariamus Sibyllarius Merianus; suffice to say that it was a wild and fiery flower that nothing could stop from blooming.

 

Have a look at her work here: https://gallica.bnf.fr/conseils/content/maria-sibylla-merian

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

 

 

 

 

 

 


Posted On: 2021-11-01 00:54
User Name: mairin

An interesting fact about the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, one of my heroines dating from the 1980s, was the time she spent with the great Dutch prodigy, Anna Maria Van Schurman, and the exiled community of Jean de Labadie, an ecstatic, defrocked Jesuit. Merian, with her young daughter, was a bold & brave independent woman at this time, traveling 'at large' in often inhospitable settings. While she didn't remain long with the Labadists, her short-term residence with that group continues to tell us much about her values, friendships, and personal ideology.
- Maureen E. Mulvihill, Collector. RBH Guest Writer.
___


Posted On: 2021-11-01 09:23
User Name: sjbutt295

The Royal Collection has a fine assembly of her pictures of butterflies & held an exhibition at the Queen's Gallery some years ago. See;
https://www.rct.uk/collection/themes/exhibitions/amazing-rare-things/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace/maria-sibylla-merian


Posted On: 2021-11-02 19:54
User Name: EHRENGARDT

Thanks for your comments! And the engravings from Queen's Gallery are gorgeous!


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Gideon Welles, <i>Extensive archive of personal and family papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy,</i> 1791-1914. Sold September 29 — $281,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Rock Climbers,</i> cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> watercolor, ink and gouache, 1954. Sold December 15 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Brontë, <i>Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell,</i> three volumes, first edition, 1847. Sold June 16, 2022 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Geoffrey Chaucer, <i>The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed,</i> London, 1542. Sold October 13 — $106,250.
    <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Dorothea Lange, <i>Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32),</i> silver print, 1936. Sold October 20 — $305,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> George Washington, Autograph Document Signed, with two manuscript plat maps in holograph, 1751. Sold October 27 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Winfred Rembert, <i>Winfred Rembert and Class of 1959,</i> dye on carved & tooled leather, 1999. Sold October 6 — $233,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> M.C. Escher, <i>Relativity,</i> lithograph, 1953. Sold November 3 — $81,250.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Original Film Posters<br>27 January - 10 February 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Vertigo (1958), poster, US. The ultimate poster on this classic Hitchcock title, one of three known examples. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Lawrence of Arabia (1962), roadshow poster, US. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Star Wars (1977), style C poster, printer's proof, US. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> The Navigator/ La Croisiere du Navigator (1924), re-release poster (1931), French. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Bullitt (1968), special test poster, US. £3,000 to £5,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 817. Bellin's complete five-volume maritime atlas with 581 maps & plates (1764). $24,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 325. An early and important map of the Republic of Texas (1837). $11,000 to $14,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 45. De Bry's early map of North Pole depicting Willem Barentsz' expedition (1601). $3,500 to $4,250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 154. Poignant map of the United States documenting lynchings (1931). $250 to $325.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 457. Extremely rare matching set of pro-German propaganda from WWI (1914). $2,000 to $2,400.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 815. Homann's world atlas featuring 110 maps in contemporary color (1751). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 60. Miniature pocket globe based on Herman Moll (1785). $3,500 to $4,500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 8. Visscher's rare carte-a-figures world map (1652). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 158. Matching satirical maps of the US by McCandlish: "Ration Map" & "Bootlegger's Map" (1944). $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 820. One of the finest English atlases of the early 19th century (1808). $4,750 to $6,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 59. Important milestone in preparation for 1969 moon landing (1963). $750 to $900.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 805. Superb bible leaf with image of crucifixion of Jesus with gilt highlights (1518). $800 to $950.
  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>including Americana<br>February 16, 2023</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works…now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [EINSTEIN, Albert (1879–1955)]. –– ORLIK, Emil (1870–1932), artist. Lithograph signed (“Albert Einstein”). N.p., 1928. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. <i>[The Lord of the Rings trilogy:] The Fellowship of the Ring.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Two Towers.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Return of the King.</i> 1955. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain") and Charles Dudley WARNER. <i>The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.</i> Hartford and Chicago, 1873. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> LOVECRAFT, Howard Phillips. <i>Beyond the Wall of Sleep.</i> Collected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1943. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions