The popularity and study of the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, an artist, botanist, naturalist, and entomologist has reignited in the last 40 years in critical discussion of pioneers of women in science. During the 18th century, Merian captivated audiences across Europe with books of detailed research and life-size paintings of familiar insects, as well as her most important work on the insects of Suriname. One long-debated controversy of Merian’s giant success lies in the history of her ownership of two Indian slaves in Suriname; one slave, “her Indian woman,” she brought back to Amsterdam to continue research and discussion of medicinal uses of plants. Pushing convention, Merian researched reproductive systems of insects, a study often regulated by men and considered unladylike, though Merian received help from fellow scientists and her unattributed slaves. Known to the literature of feminism, Merian’s business prowess, knowledge of natural science, and unique artistic talent make her a revolutionary, yet still controversial, figure in women in art and science.
This portrait of Merian is an engraving from Erucarum ortus, alimentum et paradoxa metamorphosis.