Chrusalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

Written by Kim Todd
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

Maria Sibylla Merian was born in the mid-17th century in Germany into a family of printers. When Merian was a young girl, her mother remarried, to a man who was a painter and art dealer. This background helps to explain the astonishing life and accomplishments of Merian, who was fascinated by caterpillars and their metamorphosis into butterflies and moths. She began her studies of these creatures while she was quite young, and published several volumes of her artwork. In later life, she spent a couple of years in Surinam, painting the diverse forms of creatures found there, then returned to Amsterdam to produce another volume of her work. The author situates Merian in the churning milieu of observation and increased knowledge by collectors, naturalists, and scientists of the time. She also records how posterity has treated Merian (often unfairly, working from altered and inferior copies of her work). “Merian’s greatest contribution to both science and art was her sense of ecology, the tracking of plants, seasons, parasites, predators…” Todd has written an engaging account that allows readers to follow this remarkable woman who lived in exciting times.