Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian
That a fat, brown caterpillar could turn into a wonderful butterfly was hard to believe. Contemporaries of  Maria Sibylla Merian a Swiss naturalist and scientific illustrator, were highly suspicious of the findings of entomologists at the time. Moreover, although certain scholars were aware of the process of metamorphosis from the caterpillar to the butterfly, the majority of people did not understand the process mostly because the official language of science was still Latin. 1679 Merian published, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandlung und sonderbare Blumennahrung (The Caterpillars' Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food), which became very popular as a result of being published in the vernacular. However, it is notable that her work was largely ignored by scientists of the time.

Nevertheless, being a trailblazer, Merian and her daughter Dorothea traveled together (without a male companion) to Suriname to study, document and draw insects. Such an expedition was completely unheard of at the time, and the women reportedly survived a number of dangerous encounters.Over two years she discovered a whole range of previously unknown animals and plants in the interior of Suriname. Merian spent a considerable amount of time studying and classifying her findings and described them in great detail. Her classification of butterflies and moths is still relevant today.

Maria Sibylla Merian created an incredible merger of science and art with her tireless study and stunningly beautiful copperplate engravings. Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium is her most influential work and by many considered a forerunner of modern scientific illustration.

Today (her birthday, 2. April 1647) Google honored her with a Google Doodle.

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