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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. Ofte Verandering der Surinaamsche Insecten. Amsterdam: Voor den Auteur... Als ook by Gerard Valck, [1705]. 2° (505 x 343mm). 60 ENGRAVED PLATES, WITH FINE CONTEMPORARY HAND-COLOURING, by Joseph Mulder, Pieter Sluyter, and D. Stopendael after Merian. Contemporary mottled calf, spine gilt in nine compartments with raised bands, with a repeat pattern of a centrally-placed flower-spray tool surrounded by styllised corner-pieces of scrolling foliage with integral flower-heads, marbled endpapers, red sprinkled edges (neatly rebacked with old spine laid down).

A VERY FINE LARGE COPY OF THE FIRST EDITION OF MARIA MERIAN'S GREATEST WORK, published simultaneously with the edition with Latin text. Merian oversaw all aspects of the publication of her works during her lifetime, from the original drawing, the engraving the plate, to colouring the image by hand. From her correspondance it is clear that in 1705 potential customers could specify Dutch or Latin text (she had advertised for subscribers for a German-language edition but had not garnered enough interest to make this economic). In addition, hand-coloured copies were available, but at three times the price of the uncoloured issue: Merian wrote to J.G. Volckamer in Nuremberg on 16 April 1705 informing him that she had 'illuminated a copy of my Surinamese insect transformastions, at a price of 10 Steuver, as well as possible on black print. I hope it pleases the gentleman and encourages others who see it to want to have one'. She goes on to note that she has included copies of both the Latin and Dutch text as she was not sure which would be more suitable.

The Metamorphosis is justifiably Merian's most famous work, resulting from her journey with her daughter Dorothea to Surinam in 1699. The two women spent two years studying and recording insects and plants, returning to Amsterdam with a series of finished drawings on vellum, sketches and specimens, from which they continued to work. The work first appeared simultaneously in Latin and Dutch in 1705 with 60 plates. Later editions all included 12 additional plates after Merian's elder daughter Johanna. The Metamorphosis was 'easily the most magnificent work on insects so far produced... [combining] science and art in unequal proportions, meeting the demands of art at the expense, when necessary, of science. Her portrayals of living insects and other animals were imbued with a charm, a minuteness of observation and an artistic sensibility that had not previously been seen in a natural history book' (Peter Dance The Art of Natural History pp.50-51). BM(NH) III, p.1390; Dunthorne 205; Great Flower Books p.67; Nissen BBI 1341.
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