Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was one of the greatest artist-naturalists of her time. From childhood she had been fascinated by the life cycles of butterflies, and she made a close study of their transformations. She became a flower-painter and teacher in Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. Inspired by exotic specimens imported from the Dutch colonies for the natural history collections of Holland, in 1699, at the age of fifty-two, Merian made an expedition to Surinam (Dutch Guiana) in South America. Her aim was to study the indigenous flora and fauna in their tropical habitat. On her return to Amsterdam two years later, she began work on a lavishly illustrated book, the Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (‘The Metamorphoses of the Insects of Surinam’, published in 1705), depicting the life cycles of the region’s insects.

Most of Merian’s watercolours displayed here are de luxe versions (painted on vellum) of the plates of the Metamorphosis, together with some works produced independently of that publication.

The 95 watercolours by Merian in the Royal Collection were bought in 1755 by George III, when Prince of Wales.


Pineapple with cockroaches
Cassava root, rustic sphinx moth and garden tree-boa
Swamp immortelle with giant silk moths
Branch of banana tree with caterpillar and moth
Guava tree, leafcutter and army ants, spiders and hummingbird
Passion flower plant and flag-legged bug
Vine with gaudy sphinx moth, caterpillar and chrysalis
Sweet potato plant and parrot flower
Lantern flies and cicada with flowers of a pomegranate tree
Water hyacinth, tree-frogs, tadpoles, frog-spawn and water-bugs
Sea purslane and Surinam toad
Red-billed toucan
False coral snake, banded cat-eyed snake and frogs
Frog with spawn and tadpoles and marsh marigold
Ornate lory on branch of peach tree
Common or spectacled caiman and false coral snake
Golden tegu lizard
Still life with flowers tied at the stems
Still life with fruit and blue-backed manakin