I guess everyone who has used Google today has seen it already: Google’s Doodle today celebrates the 366th birthday of Maria Sibylla Merian. A great naturalist and amazing artist, Maria Sibylla Merian has been something of a personal hero to me ever since I first heard about her. In fact, it is in part because of her awesome work that I started thinking about art and science, which basically lead to the creation of this blog. Sadly, as is the case with so many women in science and art, too few people know about her, even in entomologist circles.
Part of what makes her such an inspirational character is that, in the 17th century, she started drawing and studying insects, a very unusual activity back then. At that time, in Europe at least, insects were at best regarded a nuisance, at worst they were considered ‘creatures of the devil’ and bringers of disease and (agricultural) plagues. As a result, hardly anyone had ever bothered to study insects or their lifecycles, and it was commonly thought by many that insects were born by spontaneous generation from dirt, mud and rotting meat. It’s largely thanks to Maria Sibylla Merian’s work, illustrating the life cycles of butterflies and other insects (she described the life cycles of more than 180 insect species) that this somewhat bizarre superstitious belief was laid to rest.
Maria Sibylla Merian even set up her own, self-funded expedition to Surinam to illustrate and study the Surinam flora and fauna, a truly remarkable endeavor for a woman living and working in the 17th century!
And of course, her art is simply stunning.