02 April, 2008

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)


23 February to 18 May 2008 the Rembrandt House Museum is staging an exhibition of the work of the world-famous artist and scientist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) and her daughters. For the first time, it will be possible to see how Merian created her pictures of exotic flowers, insects and reptiles and the role her daughters played in her business.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was an exceptional woman with a no less exceptional oeuvre. She was self-willed, enterprising and inquisitive and she had immense artistic talent. Merian became the most important and influential natural history artist of her time. She depicted insects, reptiles and plants in the utmost detail and illustrated caterpillars and butterflies in their various stages of development together with the plants on which they lived and fed.

Her expedition to Surinam at the age of fifty-three was adventurous and unusual too. There she studied insects, plants and reptiles in the tropical rain forest. Critically ill, but with hundreds of drawings, she returned to Amsterdam two years later. Her beautifully illustrated book Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensis, Ofte Verandering der Surinaamse Insecten instantly made her world famous.


More than a hundred rarely shown works by Maria Sibylla Merian and her daughters Johanna Helena and Dorothea Maria have been brought together for the exhibition. These original drawings, watercolours, gouaches, prints and books come from the leading museums, print rooms and libraries in the Netherlands and abroad. The exhibition also features work by artists who influenced Maria Sibylla Merian, among them Georg Flegel, Joris Hoefnagel and Jakob Marrel.

Among the exhibits are a number of magnificent watercolours from the British Royal Collection. These sheets have never been shown to the public before and they have been removed from their album for the first time especially for the exhibition. Because these drawings have been kept in ideal conditions for centuries, the colours are as fresh as when they were painted. These dazzling sheets of exotic butterflies, moths, caterpillars and plants can now be admired in Amsterdam.

The Rembrandt House Museum has worked with the University of Amsterdam on the design and arrangement of special display cases to show the development from pupa to adult butterfly or moth using prepared insects. The exhibition reflects Maria Sibylla’s own methods; she would present her work to admirers and at the same time show them relevant insect specimens.

The exhibition was developed by guest curator Dr Ella Reitsma. The results of her years of study into Maria Sibylla Merian and her daughters can also be found in the book being published on the occasion of the exhibition. Reitsma was assisted in her research by the entomologist Dr Sandrine Ulenberg of the University of Amsterdam.

The exhibition is being organized in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it will run from 10 June to 31 August 2008.
Audio tour

A special Maria Sibylla Merian audio tour with information about the exhibition and information about Merian’s scientific method of working, her adventurous life and her collaboration with her daughters Johanna Helena and Dorothea Maria. The audio tour is included in the price of admission to the museum and is available in Dutch, English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.


A lavishly illustrated monograph is being published to accompany the exhibition. It explains the most recent insights in the research into Maria Sibylla Merian for a wide readership.

Maria Sibylla Merian & Daughters
Women of Art and Science
Ella Reitsma
Waanders, Zwolle, 2008
Hardback: € 42.50 (available in Dutch and English).
Paperback: € 32.50 (available in Dutch and English).

A special book for children aged eight and above is also being published for this exhibition. The book, which contains many illustrations about rearing and drawing caterpillars, pupae and butterflies, deals with the colourful life story and the family business of Maria Sibylla Merian and her two daughters Johanna Helena and Dorothea Maria.

Vlinders vangen in de tropen
Ella Snoep
Price: € 12.95 (only available in Dutch)

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

The living museum of Maria Sibylla Merian
In cooperation with the Rembrandt House Museum the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam has created a living museum of the caterpillars, butterflies and plants that inspired Merian to make her world-famous drawings, watercolours, books and prints.

There are exotic plants to be seen and in the green houses visitors can watch the fascinating life-cycle of butterflies - from egg, to caterpillar, to butterfly. A reconstruction of Merian's studio shows how this adventurous woman from the 17th century did her research.

For more information, please visit www.dehortus.nl


life and work

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