Maria Sibylla Merian

1647 - 1717

Maria Sibylla Merian was a remarkable entomologist and incredible artist. In her most famous work, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, 1705 she demonstrates both these skills exceptionally.


Maria Sibylla Merian

At the age of 52, Merian decided to sail to the Dutch colony of Suriname, South America, with her youngest daughter Dorothea. It was an incredibly brave move for a woman with no official patronage or chaperone. The colony had only recently been settled and from her accounts on the island, it was a harsh environment to live in. While there, however, she was able to record and draw important scientific observations. On returning to Amsterdam three years later, she began work on her ground-breaking publication.

In each of Merian’s illustrations we see a carefully laid out scene depicting the life cycle or metamorphosis of various insects, from egg through to adult form. They also featured plants or other insects that would typically be a source of food to the species, as well as common habitats. These were some of the first recorded observations of this type ever and made a significant impact to the scientific understanding of insects.


As picked by...


Kate Diston, Head of Print and Digital Collections