Maria Sibylla Merian from Shore to Ship

3 Apr
Maria's image graced a postage stamp in Germany

Maria’s image graced a postage stamp in Germany

Today we’re highlighting Maria Sibylla Merian, a household name in Germany where her pretty face once graced the currency and a postage stamp. Today, her name is emblazoned across the bow of one of the world’s most state-of-the art research vessels, RV Maria S. Merian, which is exploring the plant, marine and animal lives in the world’s waters. I happen to think that being immortalize with cash and a stamp is great, adding a ship to the mix is quite the trifecta.

How did Maria do it? Here’s a little background, (and I’ll keep it short because I know you’ve got things to do.) Maria was born April 2, 1647, which is even way before my time. Her father died when she was a toddler and it was her stepfather who encouraged her to sketch the fauna and insects of her native Frankfurt. As her artistic skills developed, so did her interest in the science behind the leafs and little creatures that crawled upon them.

It was not long before Maria noticed a correlation between the plants that were regularly chomped on by caterpillars and the ones they inhabited for cocoons from which beautiful butterflies and moths later emerged. Different plant, different species of butterfly.

Here’s where the story gets juicy. Maria reminds me so much of my younger sister Abigail May Alcatt Alcougar Nieriker. Both were blondes. Both super artistic and both were cougars who scoped out the shores of the Rhine in pursuit of young husbands. Maria married Johann Andreas Grass, 18 years her junior!

Maria’s scientific work, as well as her incredibly beautiful artwork did not go unnoticed. The city of Amsterdam sponsored Maria and one of her daughter, Dorothea Maria, to journey to Suriname, which was a newly occupied Dutch territory in northern South America at the time. While there, Maria saw first hand how her brutally the Dutch treated the natives and slaves. She made notes of this, to the chagrin of her sponsors, as well as notes and sketches of the exotic plants, animals and insects the tropical land nourished.

Maria returned home where she published Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, a volume of plants, animals and insects she researched. It was well received and still considered an excellent collection of data. Essentially, Maria did much of the same work that Brit Charles Darwin did, but without the same credit.

Germany did recognize her later and graced their 500 Deutsch Mark with her image, which is almost ironic, as Maria hovered around pauper status when she died in 1717. It is also a lot better the the annoying coin that the US mint honored Susan B. Anthony with. The note is no longer in circulation since German converted to the Euro.  Maria’s portrait is also on the .40 Deutsche Mark postage stamp. What I think is more impressive is that a research vessel is named in her honor. The RV Maria S. Merian is based out of Northern Germany and we can follow it around the world via its Twitter account @GEOMAR_en.

(You can follow me on Twitter, too @louisamayalcatt.

As for her work, Peter the Great was a huge gan, and most of her original collection is in St. Petersburg.

Now, a quick update on Carol, who had “Every Woman’s Fantasy Surgery,” last Friday. Essentially plastic surgery following a grueling battle with breast cancer. Good news! The surgery went beautifully and Carol is up and about and to quote the Beatles, getting better all the

A sample of Maria's beautiful artwork.

A sample of Maria’s beautiful artwork.

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