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Maria Sybilla Merian, Erucarum ortus (Amsterdam, 1717)

The Caterpillar Garden

Maria Merian (1647-1717), skilled in both art and natural history, studied the relationships between flowers and insects.  She conducted research in gardens and museums, produced detailed sketches and beautiful paintings, and even bred insects to aid in her entomological investigations.  

Countering widespread belief in the spontaneous generation of insects, Merian produced detailed accounts of the process of metamorphosis in butterflies and moths.  

To further her research, the citizens of Amsterdam sponsored Merian’s expedition to Suriname, a Dutch colony in South America, accompanied by her daughter Dorothea.  In Suriname, Merian recorded indigenous names of plants, studied the life cycles of caterpillars and butterflies, and observed many insects including the leaf-cutter ant and a large spider that had captured a bird.

This Latin work, published by Dorothea after her mother’s death, was also published in German, French and Dutch.

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: Renaissance of Discovery

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 9

Subject Area(s): Biology, Women and Science, Business and Economics, Art

Time Period: 18th Century

Region(s): Europe, Netherlands

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Exhibit Gallery OERs

Wondertooneel: Women and Museums

Wondertooneel Learning Leaflet

What were women doing in the museum? 

Levinus Vincent, a wealthy Dutch merchant with ties to the East Indies, created a spectacular 'Chamber of Wonders' natural history museum in Haarlem. Visiting dignitaries admired his museum, including Peter the Great and King Charles III of Spain. The detailed depictions of interior spaces include figures of women engaged in a variety of activities. Museums such as Vincent's offered women opportunities for participation in the natural sciences as donors, collectors, discoverers, visitors, patrons, lecturers and curators. This OER explores the significance of women in these early museums.


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Maria Merian: World-Traveling Entomologist

Maria Merian Learning Leaflet

How do art and travel benefit natural history? 

Maria Merian (1647-1717), skilled in both art and natural history, studied the relationships between flowers and insects. She conducted field expeditions around the world, carried out research in gardens and museums, and produced detailed sketches and beautiful paintings, and even bred insects to aid in her entomological investigations. 


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