Like most kids, Maria Merian was fascinated by insects. She loved watching them and learning about them. But, she lived during a time when people believed insects were evil. People thought they were caused by the devil and anyone who liked them must be a witch. Maria set out to prove people wrong.
- MariaMerian was born in 1647 in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father was a publisher and engraver. In her home, she had access to books on science and nature.
- After her father’s death, Maria’s mother remarried. Maria’s stepfather was an artist. He taught Maria to paint.
- At this time, people were frightened by insects, toads and frogs who seemed to be shape shifters. They didn’t understand the process of metamorphosis. They believed that if insects could change from larva to butterflies or moths, and amphibians could change from tadpoles to frogs and toads, then perhaps other animals could shift shape. These ideas gave rise to legends like werewolves.
- Scientists also believed that insects spontaneously generated. They didn’t understand that insects came from eggs, which were laid by another insect. They thought the insects sprang from mud or water.
- But Maria thought this idea was silly. As a child, she secretly began keeping insects and amphibians and studying the process of metamorphosis. She was particularly fascinated with butterflies and moths and kept silkworms and other caterpillars. She painted beautiful paintings of the animals.
- Maria eventually shared her paintings with others and became a famous artist and scientist. She helped people begin to understand that these animals were not dangerous or evil. She traveled to Africa and South America to study the animals there.
- At a time when superstition and lack of education was common, Maria courageously tried to find new ways to live. Women then did not often travel and few received an education. She challenged old ideas about both nature and women’s roles.
Questions and Answers
Question: Did Maria Merian have children and a family?
Answer: Yes, she had two daughters. She and her husband later divorced (uncommon for the time) and she lived with her mother and children in a religious community.
See a few of Merian’s remarkable paintings.