|Portrait c. 1700|
Merian was born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1647. She came from a family that was already very established in the art world. Her father, Matthaus Merian, was a prominent engraver and publisher, and her stepfather was still like painter Jacob Marrel. Marrel taught his stepdaughter to draw and paint from a very young age, and she studied under him along with his male pupils.
Insects fascinated Merian, and by the age of 13 she was already producing works of art based on specimens that she had captured and observed. At 18 she married one of her stepfather's pupils, and soon moved to Nuremburg. While there she began to take on students of her own, and her increased wealth and social standing gave her access to the gardens of the city elite. These garden studies would influence her first two published collections - Neues Blumenbuch (New Book of Flowers), and Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (The Caterpillar, Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food).
|Engraving from The Insects of Suriname|
In 1681 her stepfather passed away and she returned to Frankfurt to handle his estate. The ensuing legal battle eventually ended with her leaving her husband and moving to the Netherlands with her mother and two daughters, Johanna and Dorothea. After the death of Merian's mother in 1691, the family moved to the city of Amsterdam where their artwork received a great deal of notice from the local scientific community. During this time Johanna married a prominent merchant who was involved with trade to Suriname, which was a newly acquired Dutch colony.
Feeling that she had seen all the plants and insects she would ever see in the Netherlands, Maria wanted to see the exotic flora and fauna that Suriname had to offer. In 1699, she and Dorothea set sail for South America, and spent two years there before poor health and the threat of Malaria sent them back to Europe.
Upon their return, the mother and daughter started work on a new book, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphoses of the Insects of Suriname), which was published in 1705. During her time in Suriname, Merian not only discovered several previously unknown species, but she also classified them as well. Some of these classifications have remained today!
Maria Sibylla Merian died in 1717. Around the time of her death, several of her watercolors were sold to Czar Peter the Great, and the following year Dorothea moved to Saint Petersburg were she continued her life as an artist.
Maria Sibylla Merian's art continues to be collected, and her memory has been recognized in the past few decades though stamps, portraits on money, and through the naming of a German research vessel in 2005.