Symposium | Exploring Maria Sibylla Merian

Posted in conferences (to attend) by Editor on April 29, 2014

As noted by Hélène Bremer, from the conference website:

Exploring Maria Sibylla Merian
Artis Library, University of Amsterdam, 26–28 May 2014

merian banana small

Banana (Musa × paradisiaca) with moth and larva of the bullseye moth (Automeris liberia); plate 12, M.S. Merian, 1719, Over de voortteeling en wonderbaerlyke veranderingen der Surinaemsche insecten (University of Amsterdam)

Artis Library (Special Collections of the University of Amsterdam) will host a three-day symposium titled Exploring Maria Sibylla Merian on May 26–28, 2014. The program will open on the evening of May 26 with a reception and presentation and continue the following day with panels of invited scholars who will discuss their research on Merian’s life and her work in both art and science. On the third day the discussion will focus on the challenges and future of research on Merian. The themes of the symposium will be Merian’s biography, her work in the context of early modern entomologists and artists, the biology/ecology in Merian’s work, and her influence on both art and science. This symposium also aims to be the starting point for the preliminary work on an international conference in 2017, the 300th anniversary of the death of Merian.

If you are interested in attending the symposium (the cost will be 50 Euros), please contact Florence Pieters at the email address below. Space is very limited and so we also ask that you let us know if you must cancel for any reason.


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2 6  M A Y  2 0 1 4

Opening reception and presentation of parts of the Maria Sibylla Merian documentary film in progress. Filmmakers Jo Francis and John Fuegi will discuss their work in researching the film.

2 7 – 2 8  M A Y  20 1 4

Speakers will present 20-minute papers and time will be allotted for discussion. The order is not finalized, but capsule descriptions of the topics are below.

Presenting Merian, Kurt Wettengl
The talk will reflect on the Merian exhibition in Nürnberg 1967 and the exhibition in Frankfurt in 1997, touching on questions about the background of the exhibitions and the different intentions of exhibitions. This presentation will also reflect on the necessity of new investigations into Merian’s life and work.

Studying Insects before Merian: Johannes Goedaert en Johannes Swammerdam, Eric Jorink
Two Dutchmen, Johannes Goedaert (1617-1668) and Johannes Swammerdam (1637–1680) brought insects, considered as the ‘less esteemed of God’s creatures’, to the center of scientific and artistic attention. Basing themselves on philosophical and religious arguments, both argued that insects were among nature’s most intricate and ingenious creatures, showing the Creator’s magnificence par excellence, and their books were largely responsible for arousing interest in collecting and studying insects.

From Lay Expert to Fabulist: Merian’s scientific reputation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Brian Ogilvie
Maria Sibylla Merian’s engraved works on insects were widely circulated in the eighteenth century and were used and cited favorably by leading naturalists, but in the 19th century, her mistakes were often cited as grounds for rejecting her authority entirely. This paper will examine how this shift in naturalists’ assessment of Merian is related to changes in European society and in the organization and practice of entomology.

Merian’s holistic view of the tiny, Katharina Schmidt-Loske
Merian developed a unique style of drawing insects and their development stages and is famous for depicting the caterpillars’ food plants. Her perspective, details of the insects’ structure, and documentation of parasitic cycles characterize her work. This presentation will compare Merian’s still life studies, her ‘Studienbuch’, caterpillar book and entomological watercolours with those of Johannes Goedaert, Wenceslaus Hollar, Herman and his son Anton Henstenburgh, and Johannes Bronckhorst.

The Ecology of the Raupen books, Kay Etheridge
Merian’s Raupen (caterpillar) books contain a wealth of insightful observations on interactions among the species portrayed – the very foundation of the study of ecology. This presentation will focus on her study of factors central to ecological science, including her descriptions of environmental effects on insect development and abundance, and her observations on insect food choice and feeding behavior.

Challenges in transcribing Merian’s correspondence, Florence F.J.M. Pieters
This presentation is linked to that of Brigitte Wirth, who discovered a major transcription error in a letter written by M.S. Merian in 1711. Brigitte’s correction throws new light on the coloring procedures in Merian’s atelier. Furthermore, the letter helps to clarify price differences between several types of hand-colored copies of her books.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Baltasar Scheid and Richard Bradley: Some remarks on their letters and on the struggle with incorrect transcriptions and translations, Brigitte Wirth
In several letters the Amsterdam trader Baltasar Scheid (circa 1660–1724 ) wrote to J.G. Volkamer about Merian’s Metamorphosis, describing its development in a few words from the early beginning to the end. With the details given in these letters it is possible to specify the time of production of this book. The English botanist Richard Bradley, who visited Merian in 1714, mentioned original drawings and hand-colored books he saw in her house in his correspondence with James Petiver. The presentation will also discuss how comparison of transcriptions and translations of Merian’s letters revealed differences in meaning that should be corrected.

The printing history of Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, Leslie Overstreet
In 1705 Merian published her classic work Surinam work in two languages and with plates in four modes: uncolored on paper, hand-colored on paper, and hand-colored counter-proofs on either paper or vellum. Through the 18th century, five further ‘editions’ were produced, again in several languages both uncolored and colored. This presentation will demonstrate how surviving copies provide evidence of significant divergence of later editions from the original coloring, raising questions about the scientific reliability of those versions.

Contemporary clients for Merian’s colored copies, Truusje Goedings
Merian advertised and sold both colored and uncolored copies of her heavily illustrated books. Hand-colored books were highly profitable and must have been a major source of income for Merian. This paper will examine some of her contemporary clients for these rather expensive materials, their interests, and what they bought.

Portfolio Wiesbaden, Joos van de Plas
This contemporary artist will address her research in which she investigated the alleged link between specimens in the Wiesbaden Gerning Collection and Merian’s work. Van de Plas visually compared the dried insects in the Gerning Collection with the life-size depictions in Merian’s Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium; she verified her findings using computer comparisons and by additional comparisons with specimens in other 17th- and 18th-century collections. Van de Plas also will relate how her decade-long investigation profoundly influenced her own art.

Speaker information is available here»

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