MERIAN, Maria Sibylla (1647-1717). Der Rupsen Begin, voedzel en Wonderbaare Verandering. Amsterdam: Gerard Valk (parts I and II) [and Johann Oosterwijk (part III)] for the author, [1713-1714-1717].
3 parts in one volume, 4° (233 x 175mm). Engraved allegorical frontispiece by Simon Schijnvoet before letters, author portrait in counterproof, 3 engraved part-titles with foliate or floral wreath, and 150 PLATES IN COUNTERPROOF, ALL COLOURED BY HAND IN WATERCOLOUR, PROBABLY BY MERIAN'S DAUGHTERS, the frontispiece and portrait in watercolour heightened with body colour and gold. (Text spotted, some offsetting and very occasional small spot in plates, faint browning.) Contemporary Dutch calf by the Double Drawer Handle Bindery, panelled in gilt, spine gilt in compartments, red leather lettering-piece, marbled endpapers, gilt edges (discreet repairs at joints, some abrasions and staining); modern box in a period style.
FIRST COMPLETE EDITION; FIRST EDITION OF PART III; AND FIRST EDITION IN DUTCH OF THE RAUPENBUCH. The present copy is one of the few de luxe copies, with the plates printed in counterproof and coloured by hand, almost certainly by Merian's daughters and possibly by Merian herself in parts one and two. Printing counterproofs was a laborious process, entailing running the sheets through the press not with an engraved plate but with a freshly printed image, producing a lighter print without a plate mark. This base was highly suitable to delicate colouring, thereby replicating the original drawing as closely as possible. Merian recognised the artistic advantages of the technique and issued a few copies of various editions of her work with counterproof plates. These deluxe counterproof copies also share deluxe bindings from one of two Amsterdam workshops associated with the publisher Oosterwijk. The Double Drawer Handle bindery was active between 1697 and 1742, and the current binding shows tools 38, 40, 84, 96 and 134, among others (cf. J. Storm van Leeuwen, Dutch Decorated Bookbinding in the 18th Century, 2006, p. 228 ff.)
Der Rupsen Begin is the culmination of Merian's life-work. She commenced her studies of insects in the 1660s as a mere teenager, published the first two parts with German text in 1679 and 1683, and was still immersed in preparing the third part of the Raupenbuch for publication at her death almost 60 years later. Her artistic representations present close scientific observation, following the metamorphosis of insects and depicting them through their development from egg to caterpillar and from pupa to butterfly, and with their host plants. Hers are among the earliest works of ecological enquiry.
Merian closely controlled her publications. Here, she translated the text of the first two parts from German into Dutch herself, revising it and making it more succinct; she also included a few new studies, and prepared the text and illustrations for a new third part. Illness slowed the progress on the third part, and it did not appear until just after her death, completed by her daughters. Nissen BBI 1342; Landwehr 133, 134; K. Wettengl (ed.), Maria Sibylla Merian, exhibition catalogue (1998), no.152.