We are pleased to offer a selection of Maria Sibylla Merian prints from Der Rupsen Begin, voedzel en Wonderbaare Verandering, published in 1713. The finely detailed & richly hand colored copper engravings portray butterflies & insects along with the fruits and flowers on which they lived. These extremely rare prints are considered some the most desirable in the entire world of print collection. In some ways, this work was the product of a lifetime of as she started work in it early in her life, with the third section completed by her daughter and published only after her death.
Maria Sibylla Merian was born in 1647 in Frankfurt to a well-known Swiss engraver, Mattheus Merian. After her father's death, when Maria was an infant, her mother soon married Jacob Marrell, the Dutch flower painter. Early on, Maria displayed a talent for drawing, particularly insects, & her stepfather interceded with her mother to allow her to pursue her interests. It was radical step in a time when insects were considered unclean. Maria became fascinated with the metamorphosis of butterflies & all stages of their transitions & habitats. She studied with Abraham Mignon, her father's pupil and later Johann Graff, whom she subsequently married.
In 1679 she published the European Insects, colored by her own hand & that of her daughter Dorothea. In 1685 she converted to Labadism, founded by the French priest Jean de La Badie, and moved with her two daughters to live in their community at Borsch Castle in Holland. Her husband followed her there, but after 17 years the marriage was over & Maria resumed her maiden name.
By chance, in the castle was a superb collection of tropical insects from Surinam, brought back by the H V Sommerdych, the owner of the castle & the Governor of the Dutch colony of Surinam.
Incredibly, it was the inspiration for Maria & her daughter Dorothea to set sail for Surinam, in South America, known later as French & Dutch Guiana.
In the two years there, Maria & her daughter gathered the material & made the drawings for the magnificent Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, published in 1705, with 60 plates. Most of the plates were engraved by Jon Slayter & Joseph Mulder. Health problems mandated her return to Europe, but her daughter Johanna married a Dutch trader in Surinam and was able to complete more drawings & collect specimens for the second edition of Metamorphosis, with 12 additional plates.
It is a breathtaking accomplishment in any age to embark on an extended sojourn in a third world country as a single mother & artist aged 52, accompanied by a child. That Maria not only accomplished this journey, but produced a masterpiece which has never been equaled in botanical illustration defies the imagination & is an inspiration and a gift to all humankind.
Sadly Maria suffered a stroke in 1711 and died a pauper in Amsterdam on January 13th, 1717.