Today’s Google doodle, a particularly good one, celebrates the birthday, life and work of Maria Sibylla Merian (2 April 1647 – 13 January 1717). (If you click on the doodle itself—not the one below—you’ll get a Google search for Merian.)
Merian, a German who later lived in the Netherlands, was a scientific illustrator who began her career drawing plants but then developed an interest in insects and their life histories. Her illustrations of the insects, not a hot topic of study in the 17th century, constituted a formidable advance in entomology. Here’s a brief bio from the National Museum of Women in the Arts:
In 1670, she and her husband moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first illustrated books. In preparation for a catalogue of European moths, butterflies, and other insects, Merian collected, raised, and observed living insects, rather than working from preserved specimens.
In 1685 Merian left Nuremberg and her husband, whom she was later divorced; she and her two daughters moved to the Dutch province of West Friesland. Eight years later, at the age of 52, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, without a male companion. Merian had seen some of the dried specimens of animals and plants that were popular with European collectors, and she wanted to study them within their natural habitats. She spent the next two years studying and drawing the indigenous flora and fauna.
Forced home by malaria, Merian published her most significant book in 1705. The lavishly illustrated Insects of Surinam established her international reputation. The plates in NMWA’s collection come from a second, posthumously published edition, Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam.
A bit of her work: