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Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

 Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium

Maria Sibylla Merian. Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium. Amstelædami: J. Oosterwijk, 1719.

Merian had drawn and studied insects at length during her youth in Germany.  Inspired by the number and variety of tropical species being brought back by the Dutch, she decided to visit the colony of Surinam to study and record the indigenous insect life there.  In her introduction to the Metamorphosis, she wrote that her real interest was in the “origins and development” of insects.  She sailed from Amsterdam to Surinam with her daughter Dorothea in 1699, and remained there until 1701.  Merian’s work offers an insight into the exotic insect life of tropical South America, with lizards and snakes, colorful butterflies flying around flowering or fruiting plants, and huge caterpillars moving across the leaves.  Some plates depict more than one species, as Merian observed that a plant was not the exclusive domain of only one.   She successfully portrays on a large format a glimpse into the natural world that she experienced in Surinam.

Naturalists purchased the Surinam book because Merian's paintings included a number of plants and insects that had not previously been seen or described in Europe.  This book was ground-breaking in many ways and had an enormous impact on European perception of the tropical New World, the life cycles of insects, and the manner in which natural history subjects could be illustrated to indicate their natural context.

 

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