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This exquisite hand-colored folio engraving is from Maria Sibylla Merian’s Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium commonly referred to as Insects of Surinam. This is the first French edition and was published in The Hague by Pierre Gosse in 1726.
Maria Sibylla Merian was a naturalist and artist. Her contributions to entomology were nevery truly acknowledged in her lifetime, but she is considered a groundbreaker in the fields of botany and zoology. She made detailed observations of live specimens, which was a departure from previous studies that used preserved specimens. She focused great detail on the processes of metamorphosis which had not been studied so comprehensively before her work.
The engravings were done by J. Mulder, P. Sluyter and A. Stopendaal, all after Merian. The work is considered to be one of the most beautiful if not most famous illustrated natural history works of the 18th century.
The work was the result of Merian’s trip with her daughter Dorothea to Surinam in 1699. The pair studied and recorded plants and insects for two year under difficult conditions. They came back to Amsterdam with specimens and their work and produced this astounding work.
‘Her portrayals of living insects and other animals were imbued with a charm, a minuteness of observation and an artistic sensibility that had not previously been seen in a natural history book’; if Gould and Audubon have ‘a spiritual ancestor, then it is difficult to think of a more worthy claimant to the title than Maria Sibylle Merian’ (op. cit. p. 51
It is ‘easily the most magnificent work on insects so far produced … [combining] science and art in unequal proportions, meeting the demands of art at the expense, when necessary, of science. Her portrayals of living insects and other animals were imbued with a charm, a minuteness of observation and an artistic sensibility that had not previously been seen in a natural history book’ (Peter Dance, The Art of Natural History , pp.50-51).