A Woman of Art and Science
April 2nd marks the birth of a very important female scientist that was ahead of her time. The artistic and scientific explorations of German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) helped pioneer the way for other women in science. Enterprising and adventurous, Merian raised the artistic standards of natural history illustration and helped transform the field of entomology, the study of insects.
In 1670, she and her husband moved to Nuremberg, where Merian published her first set of illustrated books. In preparation for a catalogue of European moths, butterflies, and other insects, Merian collected, raised, and observed living insects, rather than working from preserved specimens.
At the age of 52 and divorced, Merian and her younger daughter embarked on a dangerous trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname, in South America, without a male companion. Merian spent the next two years studying and drawing the indigenous flora and fauna within their natural habitats. Forced home by malaria, Merian published Insects of Surinam, her most significant book, in 1705. The lavishly illustrated book forever established her international reputation as an accomplished woman of science.