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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) Johanna Helena Merian (1668-1723), Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphoibus insectorum Surinamensium

  • $ 375,000.00

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Johanna Helena Merian (1668-1723)

Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphoibus insectorum Surinamensium

Amsterdam: J. Oosterwyk, 1719

MERIAN, Maria Sibylla (1647-1717). Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphoibus insectorum Surinamensium: in quâ, præter vermes & erucas Surinamenses, earumque admirandam metamorphosin, plantæ, flores & fructus quibus vescuntur, & in quibus fuerunt inventæ, exhibentur his adjunguntur Bufones, Lacerti, Serpentes, Araneae, aliaque admiranda istius regionis animalcula; omnia manu ejusdem matonae in America ad vivum accurate depicta, & nunc aeri incisa. Accedit appendix transformationum piscium in ranas, & ranarum in pisces. Amerstdam: J. Oosterwyk, 1719.

Folio (20 4/8 x 14 4/8 inches). EXCEPTIONALLY FINE engraved frontispiece with original hand-colour HEIGHTENED IN GOLD after F. Ottens, title-page lettering HEIGHTENED IN GOLD and engraved vignette with original hand-colour (margins mildly oxidised by the binding), dedication to Balthazar Scott LETTERED IN GILT, the armorial vignette with original hand-colour, 72 EXCEPTIONALLY FINE COUNTER-PROOF IMPRESSIONS of engraved plates with original hand-colour, painted with an eye to scientific accuracy (some minor spotting and light toning particularly towards the end of the book, plate V and XII and  bound in upside-down at publication). Contemporary diced calf, each cover elaborately decorated in gilt with broad border of multiple fillets and floral roll tools, spine elaborately decorated in nine compartments, gilt-lettered in one, all edges gilt (recently and expertly rebacked preserving the original spine by James and Stuart Brockman Ltd, full report available on request). Modern cloth folding box.

Provenance: 19th-century South Library bookplate of the Earls of Macclesfield on the front paste-down, and on the verso of the front free endpaper dated 1860, discreet blind-stamp on title-page, their sale Sotheby's, March 16, 2004, lot 71.


AN EXCEPTIONALLY FINE COPY of the second edition of Merian's MAGNUM OPUS, her "Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphoibus insectorum Surinamensium...", in Latin, in its most desirable state, WITH COUNTER-PROOF IMPRESSIONS of the plates, and enlarged with 12 full-page plates by Merian's elder daughter Johanna Helena, who moved to Surinam in 1711, not included in the first edition of 1705.

In the counter-proof process the image is printed from a freshly minted print, giving a much softer impression, with the same orientation as the original watercolour, and allowing the delicate hand-colouring to appear as close to the original as possible. The rarity of counter-proof copies, indicates that they were reserved only for a few select collectors.

Merian's study of caterpillars and butterflies and the plants that nourish them was "the work of her lifetime" (Wettengl, p.54), in that the preparation and publication of several parts and editions of her "Raupenbuch", spanned her entire career. Merian herself in her "Studienbuch", now housed in St. Petersburg, Russia, records that she was raising silkworms and other insects by the time she was 13 in 1660. At the end of her life, she was immersed in preparing the third part of the "Raupenbuch" for publication, and one of the pre-eminent publisher's of the age. 

Daughter of Swiss topographical artist Matthaus Merian, and Johanna Sybilla Heim, Merian had been raised in Germany by Heim and her stepfather, the artist Jacob Marrel. Her first and rarest work, the "Blumenbuch" was issued in 3 parts, each consisting of 12 plates, in 1675, 1677 and 1680, respectively. In 1680 a composite issue appeared of all three parts, newly entitled "Neues Blumenbuch", with two leaves of text containing an introduction and a register of plant names.  While in Germany she married the Nuremberg painter Johann Andreas Graff, and published the first two parts of the "Raupenbuch" .

In 1699, following Merian's separation from her husband, Merian travelled with her daughters to Dutch Surinam: "expressly to study and record the insect life of the tropics... this voyage was not only unusual for a woman in her position, it was unprecedented for any European naturalist to venture such an independently financed and organized expedition. In Surinam she worked for almost two years collecting, observing and painting over ninety species of animals and sixty or more species of plants" (Etheridge, page 2).

Merian returned from Surinam in 1701, and in late 1704, she published her magnum opus, "Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium" in Dutch. Several editions were published posthumously, at first by her family and later by others. Twelve additional plates were added. "The text and images that inform her volumes are the product of decades of meticulous observations of the life cycles of insects, ...most of her images were made from live or freshly preserved specimens. Merian shows moths laying eggs, caterpillars feeding on leaves, and butterflies and lizards alike extending their tongues toward potential food". (Etheridge, page 3).

Beautiful, and so accurate are Merian's images, the insects in "Metamorphosis insectorum surinamensium" being depicted lifesize against plants that had been arranged to suit the composition, that in a study reported by Etheridge, 73% of the images of lepidopterans are identifiable to genus and 66% can be identified as an exact species. "This success rate for matching known species to painted images is impressive, particularly when one considers that the identification of all insects in the tropics remains incomplete even today" (Etheridge, page 4). 

From the celebrated library of the Earls of Macclesfield at Shirburn Castle, Oxfordshire, England, accumulated from the early 18th century by generations of of the Parker family, and sold (over successive sales) by Sothebys. The first Earl of Macclesfield was Thomas Parker, 1st Baron Parker, made Viscount Parker, of Ewelm in the County of Oxford, and Earl of Macclesfield, in the County Palatine of Chester in 1716. He was Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench from 1710 to 1718 and Lord High Chancellor from 1718 to 1725. Probably acquired by Thomas Augustus Wolstenholme Parker, 6th Earl of Macclesfield (17 March 1811 - 24 July 1896) Conservative Member of Parliament for Oxfordshire from 1837 until 1841. Nissen 1341; Sitwell "Great Flower Books," p. 67; Dunthorne 205; Hunt 467 (1726 edition), 483 (French edition); Landwehr 131; "Oak Spring Flora" 101; Stearn "The Wondrous Transformation of Caterpillars", 1978; Kay Etheridge "Maria Sibylla Merina: The First Ecologist?". 


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