The Museum of Art is excited to have recently acquired four early eighteenth-century hand-colored engravings by Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647–1717). Merian was an expert botanist and naturalist, and these four works demonstrate her passion and fascination with the natural world. All four works derive from Merian’s 1699 expedition from her native Frankfurt to Suriname, in South America. She was recently divorced, and undertook the journey with her daughter out of intellectual interest and financial necessity. The works that were made during or inspired by this journey established Merian as one of the most accomplished entomologists and natural history illustrators of her time. Merian was a true scientific pioneer, a feat even more impressive given the obstacles she encountered as a woman in the male-dominated field of biology.
These four engravings are the first works by Merian to be collected by the Museum of Art. They not only add to the Museum’s outstanding print collection, but they also offer an incredible tool for Bowdoin’s science departments. Dr. Patty Jones, assistant professor of biology and director of the Bowdoin College Scientific Station on Kent Island, says that these works “are particularly useful for teaching biology because they include the insect with its host plant, and often in multiple life stages. That is unusual for the era and is wonderful natural history information.” She adds, “I think the addition of these prints to the Bowdoin collection, which already contains works by Kate Furbish and Henrietta Homer, creates a unique resource of art by female biologists.”