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Maria Sibylla Merian

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Maria Sibylla Merian (April 2nd, 1647 to January 13th, 1717) was a German naturalist and scientific illustrator who painted detailed images of plants, flowers, and insects. She is especially known for her depictions of butterfly metamorphoses, a process that was largely unknown of at the time. Merian published several books of observations and drawings, including The Caterpillar's Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food in 1679. Her classifications of butterflies and moths are still relevant today.

Merian's work eventually took her from gardens of Amsterdam to Suriname, a Dutch colony in South America. Merian's two-year trip was unusual for women at the time, and she was able to uncover a whole range of animals and plants previously unknown to western cultures. Merian's findings and drawings not only depicted Suriname's local plants and animals, but also recorded native names and uses of plants.

Unfortunately, Merian was not acknowledged by the male scientific community of the period because she did not publish her works in Latin, but she is better recognized today, especially in Germany where Merian's portrait was printed on a stamps and the 500 Deutsche Mark before Germany adopted the Euro.

For a biography of Maria Merian, check out Chrysalis by Kim Todd.

This entry is part of MPL's National Women's History Month.

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