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

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

[Neues Blumenbuch. Nuremberg: Johann Andreas Graff, 1680].

2° (243 x 175mm). 36 COUNTERPROOF PLATES, ALL COLOURED BY HAND, VERY PROBABLY BY MERIAN. Printed on individual leaves, joined to form bifolia. Watermarks: crowned coat-of-arms with fleur-de-lis, pendant monogram WR, counter mark PVL, similar to Heawood's no. 281 by the Dutch papermaker Pieter van der Ley, dated in Heawood to 1686 but in use from 1675, (paper identification kindly undertaken by Mr. Theo Laurentius). (Without text, tiny marginal tear in 2 leaves, small stain in 7 leaves, very light browning in one, light pencil marks on 2 leaves, inscription on first frontispiece erased with resultant small hole.) Near-contemporary calf, gilt spine lettered 'Bloemgesigten' in second compartment, red speckled edges (spine defective, with sections of backstrip missing), modern green solander box. Provenance: Jan S. Tysset [de Fostel?] (erased title inscription dated 1749, 'Schilder boek van de ...', similar inscription on front pastedown).

A UNIQUE COPY OF MERIAN'S RARE FIRST WORK, WITH THE PLATES PRINTED IN COUNTERPROOF AND COLOURED BY HAND, VERY PROBABLY BY MERIAN HERSELF. The Blumenbuch was issued in three parts consisting of 12 plates each, the first in 1675, the second in 1677 and the third in 1680; also in 1680 appeared a composite issue of all three parts, newly entitled Neues Blumenbuch, with a 2-page introduction by Merian, and a register of plant names. The present copy belongs to the 1680 issue, bringing together all 36 plates. All parts of the Blumenbuch are extremely rare. Only 2 incomplete copies of the 1675 first part are known (in Vienna and Bern), one copy of the 1677 second part (Bern), and one incomplete copy of the 1680 third part (Nuremberg). Of the 3-part issue of the Neues Blumenbuch in 1680, only 6 other copies are known, one of which is incomplete, and only 3 of which have contemporary hand-colouring (see List of Copies at end).

The present copy of the Neues Blumenbuch is not only extremely rare, but it is unique, for it is the only copy known with the plates printed in counterproof. This technique, whereby the image is printed not from the engraved plate itself, but from a freshly pulled print, results in an image lightly inked, with no indentation of a plate mark, and oriented in the same direction as the original drawing rather than in a mirror image. Counterproofs were traditionally used by engravers for correcting the plate, but Merian applied the technique to an aesthetic end: the softer lines of the image allowed delicate hand-colouring, which, with the absence of a plate mark, resulted in a finished work resembling as closely as possible her original drawing. Copies of her 1679 Raupenbuch are known with plates in counterproof, and she issued copies of her later works in counterproof and hand-coloured as de luxe copies (see the following two lots).

The colouring of the present copy is, in the opinion of Dr. Sam Segal, by Merian herself; it may even represent the copy she coloured to be used as a model book for colouring other copies. In that case, it is likely that it was one of the first copies of the 1680 issue to have been printed. As a model book for a colourist, it would not have required the printed text, which is here absent. The colouring in the present copy is most closely connected to that in a copy in the Sächsische Landesbibliothek at Dresden, given to the Charles II Elector of the Palatinate by Merian and therefore almost certainly coloured with great care by her, and in a copy in the Natural History Museum at London. There are differences between the three copies, but the colouring in the present copy accords most closely with the descriptions in the plant register printed to accompany the work. For instance, plate 8 is listed as a blue iris, the colour in the counterproof copy, but it is coloured violet and purple or violet in the Dresden and London copies.

In the introduction Merian states that she has produced the work as a model book, providing patterns to be copied in paint or embroidery. Interestingly, the copy of the earliest two parts surviving at Bern shows pinpricks, attesting to its use as a pattern book. In the same year as the publication of the first part of the Blumenbuch Merian was praised by Joachim von Sandrart in his Teutsche Adademie for her drawing and painting in oils and watercolours, for her etching, for her exquisite needlework, and for her own technique of painting flowers and herbs on cloth so that the image showed in equal perfection on both sides and, more remarkably, could be washed without damaging the colours. This last skill may hint at Merian's ease in working in reverse, and may be related to her predilection for counterproof plates of her engraved work. Her skills, both in painting and in needlework, were highly sought after, and she counted Nuremberg's finest young women, such as Clara Regina Imhoff, Magdalena Frst, and Dorothea Auer among her pupils.

The Blumenbuch was created in the long established tradition of botanical plate books which served as pattern books. Adriaen Collaert's Florilegium (Antwerp: c.1590) is one of the earliest model books for embroidery, metalwork and other crafts. Pierre Vallet, embroiderer to King Henry IV published a florilegium as pattern book in 1608, which influenced numerous subsequent works, such as Jan Theodor de Bry's Florilegium novum (1612). Interestingly, De Bry was Maria Sibylla Merian's grandfather, and her father Matthaeus Merian published editions of his florilegium in 1626 and 1641. The work which influenced Maria Sibylla's Blumenbuch most directly was Nicolas Robert's Diverses Fleurs (1643 and after); 7 of the 12 engravings in the first part are close copies of Robert and one other is closely modelled on De Bry. In the subsequent second and third parts of the Blumenbuch Merian stated on the title-page that she worked from nature, and the images show her exercising her own imagination and treatment of her subject. The Blumenbuch in turn spawned its own progeny, such as botanical pattern books by C.S. Froberg (Blumen und Insekten-Buch. Nuremberg: c.1700), Margaretha Helm (Kunst- und Fleiss-bende Nadel-Ergötzungen, Nuremberg: not after 1712), Johann Christoph Höflich (Blumen- und Insecten-Buch, Nuremberg: c.1710) and Amalia Beer (Wohl-anständige und Nutzen-bringenden Frauen-Zimmer-Ergötzung, Nuremberg: c.1720), to name a few.

The plates for the Blumenbuch were not re-issued in Merian's lifetime, but were reworked with the addition of insects for a 1730 edition, Histoire des Insectes de l'Europe. THE BLUMENBUCH IS NOT ONLY THE RAREST OF ALL MERIAN WORKS, BUT THE PLATES IT CONTAINS ARE THE RAREST OF ALL OF MERIAN'S PUBLISHED IMAGES.


1. Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek. Formerly owned by Charles II, Elector of the Palatinate (reigned 1680-1685), and probably acquired directly from Merian. Contemporary hand-colouring; lacking two plates.

2. Dresden, Landesamt fr Denkmalpflege. 18th-century colouring.

3. Mainz, Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek. Uncoloured.

4. London, British Museum of Natural History. Contemporary hand-colouring.

5. Leipzig, Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Bcherei. Coloured.
6. Copenhagen, Botanisk Centralbibliothek. Uncoloured.

Facsimile editions have been made of the Dresden (no. 1) copy (the missing plates supplied from the second Dresden copy) and of the uncoloured copy at Mainz. Cf. H. Deckert, M.S. Gräffin M. Merians des Ältern seel: Tochter Neues Blumenbuch ... Nrnberg im Jahr 1680, Leipzig: 1966 (3rd and 4th eds., 1981, 1987); and Maria Sibylla Merian, New Book of Flowers, epilogue by Thomas Brger, Munich: 1999.

Blunt & Stearn, pp.142-146; Nissen BBI 1340; S. Segal, 'Maria Sibylla Merian as a Flower Painter', Maria Sibylla Merian, exhibition catalogue, 1998, ed. K. Wettengl, pp.69-87.

Christie's kindly thanks Dr. Sam Segal of Amsterdam for his thorough analysis of this volume. His report is available upon request.

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