This volume includes two works by German entomologist Maria Sybilla Merian which have been bound together: 'De europische insecten' together with her work 'Over de voorttelingen wonderbaerlyke Veranderingen der Surinaamsche Insecten'. These covered her work on the insects of Europe and Suriname, and are known in English as 'Insects of Europe' and 'Insects of Suriname'.

The first folio edition of her works, these titles were published in Amsterdam by J. F. Barnard in 1730. 'De Europische insecten' was first published in Nuremberg as 'Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung', in two volumes, 1679-1683. 'Over de voorttelingen wonderbaerlyke Veranderingen der Surinaamsche Insecten' was first published in Amsterdam 1705 under the title 'Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium'.

The illustrations in both works were produced from a combination of etching and engraving techniques. Before her death in 1717, Merian and her daughter often hand-coloured the plates themselves.

Physical Description

51 pages of letterpress and 47 leaves of plates: 184 hand-coloured etchings and engravings; 51cm. Title page in red and black with colour vignette. Engraved allegorical frontispiece. Laid paper. Late 18th century tree-calf binding with gilt edging and decorative marbled endpapers. Published in Dutch.


Merian is significant for being one of the first European scientists to investigate metamorphosis in insects. This can be seen in her illustrations, which depict insects at various life stages. She was interested in entomology from childhood, and caught and raised insects in order to observe them first-hand. She learned engraving techniques from her step-father Jacob Marrel, and made a living from various artistic ventures. According to Woman's Record, she 'painted from nature, reptiles, flowers, and insects, which she studied with the most curious and minute observation'.

Born in Frankfurt, Merian also lived in Nuremberg and Friesland. She published her first work on European insects in 1679-1683 while living in Nuremberg. Later she settled in Amsterdam with her two daughters, where she established a successful art studio. In 1699 at the age of 52, Merian sold more than 200 of her paintings to raise money for a research and collecting trip to the Dutch colony of Suriname with her younger daughter Dorothea. There she collected and observed the local insects, conducting research towards her publication for two years until she fell ill and returned to Amsterdam.

Merian's books are considered important early works in entomology, and this volume was among the first purchases made by Professor Frederick McCoy in the early days of the National Museum of Victoria. This edition is extremely rare in Australia; Museums Victoria Library holds the only copy of this edition in Australian libraries. Additionally, Merian's work is significant as an example of the relatively small number of women who were able to participate in science during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

More Information

  • Collecting Areas

    Rare Books

  • Author

    Maria S. Merian, Amsterdam, Netherlands
    Merian authored the work and also created the original artworks and engravings used to create the prints. The European material was first published in 1769, while the Suriname material was first published in 1705. This edition, produced after Merian's death in 1717, would have been hand-coloured by other colourists.

  • Publisher

    Jean F. Bernard, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1730
    J. F. Bernard published the first folio editions of these two works.

  • Purchaser of Item Depicted

    Prof Frederick McCoy - University of Melbourne (The), Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
    Purchased from Bernard Quarritch, "Account of books furnished through Williams and Norgate" - Museums Victoria 1855-1878, Invoice Book - National Museum of Victoria - 1855 to 1878. [Manuscript] Vol/180 Museums Victoria Archives. Melbourne.

  • Inscriptions

    Title page bears the stamp of the National Museum of Victoria.

  • Category


  • Discipline

    Rare Books

  • Type of item


  • Exhibition Collection Management

    370 mm (Width), 60 mm (Depth), 515 mm (Height)

  • References

    Hale, Sarah Jospeha Buell 1855 'Woman's record; or, Sketches of all distinguished women, from the creation to A.D. 1854. Arranged in four eras. With selections from female writers of every age', pp. 427-28, viewed 1/12/2021 [Link 1] Kean, J 2013 'The art of science : remarkable natural history illustrations from Museum Victoria', Carlton, Vic. : Museum Victoria. Schmidt-Loske, K 2009 'Maria Sibylla Merian's "extremely costly" journey to nature's treasure-house' in M Merian 'Insects of Suriname', facsimile ed., Taschen, Hong Kong. Graesse,. IV, p. 496.

  • Keywords

    Natural history illustration, Natural history literature, Entomology, Insects, Engraving