Plate 1 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam

Maria Sibylla Merian1719/1719

National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, D.C., United States

Besides creating visual images of great beauty, Maria Sibylla Merian wrote scientific pieces that revolutionized both botany and zoology.

This engraving is one of 82 that were based on the meticulous sketches and field notes Merian made during her two years in the Dutch colony of Suriname in South America. While there, she studied insects and animals in their natural habitats and made detailed records of native plants.

Merian described the pineapple as the “most outstanding of all edible fruits,” which may explain its place as the first illustration in her publication. She also noted that cockroaches are partial to the sweet fruit and cause devastation to all of Suriname’s inhabitants by “spoiling their wool, linen, food and drinks.” Merian’s drawing features two types of cockroaches that lay their eggs in distinctly different manners.

The plates in NMWA’s collection come from a second, posthumous edition of Merian’s work, published as “Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam.”


  • Title: Plate 1 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam
  • Creator: Maria Sibylla Merian
  • Creator Lifespan: 1647/1717
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Creator Death Place: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Creator Birth Place: Frankfurt, Germany
  • Date: 1719/1719
  • selected exhibition history: “Maria Sibylla Merian,” Historisches Museum Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1997–98; “Maria Sibylla Merian: Natural History Illustrator,” American Museum of Natural History, New York City, 1981; “Maria Sibylla Merian 1647-1717,” Germanisches National Museum, Nürnberg, Germany, 1967
  • artist profile: Using her keen observational skills, Maria Sibylla Merian revolutionized both botany and zoology. From early childhood, she was interested in drawing insects and plants surrounding her. In 1670, she and her husband moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first illustrated books. In preparation for a catalogue of European moths, butterflies, and other insects, Merian collected, raised, and observed living insects, rather than working from preserved specimens. In 1685, Merian left Nuremberg and her husband, whom she was later divorced; she and her two daughters moved to the Dutch province of West Friesland. Eight years later, at the age of 52, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, without a male companion. Merian had seen some of the dried specimens of animals and plants that were popular with European collectors, and she wanted to study them within their natural habitats. She spent the next two years studying and drawing the indigenous flora and fauna. Forced home by malaria, Merian published her most significant book in 1705. The lavishly illustrated volume established her international reputation.
  • Style: Baroque
  • Physical Dimensions: w9.75 x h12.75 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Print
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • External Link: National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Medium: Hand-colored engraving on paper

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