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Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647-1717), Plate 48. Tabrouba Tree with Stag Beetle, Palm Weevil and other Insects

Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647-1717), Plate 48. Tabrouba Tree with Stag Beetle, Palm Weevil and other Insects

  • $ 5,250.00

Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647-1717)
“Plate 48. Tabrouba Tree with Stag Beetle, Palm Weevil and other Insects”
from The Insects of Surinam
Watercolor and bodycolor with gum arabic over lightly etched outlines on paper
Amsterdam, 1705
Paper size: 20 1/4 x 14 in.

Transfer-print watercolors from The Insects of Surinam

“The objects depicted in this sheet are completely unrelated to one another.  Tabrouba (Genipa americana) is an Indian name for the plant from whose fruit a durable black paint used for body painting is produced and from the milk of which an insect repellant is derived.  The stag beetle (Macrodontia cervicornis) equipped with the powerful pinchers developed from its upper jaws is illustrated as inhabiting and surrounding the tree, however, as Maria Sibylla Merian herself writes, it is only a ‘decorative’ element in the composition.  The palm weevil (Rhynchophorus palarum) infests the pith of the palm tree as a larva, which is not depicted due to its size.  According to Merian’s entry in the Studienbuch for the palm weevil, the Indians considered the fat, full grown larvae a great delicacy and: “They laid these worms on coals and roasted them.”   Merian mistakenly regarded the animals in the lower portion of the illustration as related.  The caterpillar, which Merian describes as looking like a “clothing brush” under the magnifying glass, and the inappropriately small cocoon belong to the butterfly; the orchid bee (Euglossa dimidiata) builds its nest in hollows in trees or in the earth.

Descriptions of each plant adapted from J.Harvey’s commentary to the Folio Society facsimile of the Surinam Album (London, 2006) and Merian’s text for the Insects of Surinam.

One glimpse of any of Merian’s transfer-print watercolors from the Insects of Surinam reveals the main reasons for such celebration. Even to those who do not know of her work, this is a stunning sight. Her colors are alternately subtle and vibrant, capturing the quality of her subjects with striking naturalism. Yet while she maintains a scientist’s eye for precision, her creative decisions and compositions give these images a style that is distinctly hers. Each image demonstrates Merian’s masterful grasp of detail and nuance, as well as her outstanding ability to combine science and art. Equally significant, to early 18th century Europeans, her illustrations represented the first views of these American plants and insects.

These spectacular examples of her work are from one of a very few transfer-print watercolor volumes known to exist. Merian herself prepared the volume. After an uncolored print was made, she applied dampened paper to it, pressing by hand to create an image of the print in reverse. In this volume, she chose to block out the plate numbers and then add by hand, to some images, numbers, and notations. Merian then painstakingly watercolored the dried paper herself, ensuring that the colors were true to the specimens she had seen in South America, and also allowing her style to emerge with the greatest clarity. The volume was not meant for sale, and its intended purpose cannot be known with any certainty. Perhaps it was created as a gift for a wealthy and important patron, perhaps Merian meant to keep it herself. What can be stated without a doubt is that these splendid images represent a unique opportunity to acquire original works by an artist who broke barriers as a woman, as a scientist and artist, and whose accomplishments are no less impressive today than they were in her time.

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