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3 Posts tagged with the women_and_science tag
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Another year and another new theme and chance for the Library & Archives to show off and celebrate our wonderful artwork collections! Throughout the centuries women have made significant contributions to natural history art - all of whom shared a fascination and enthusiasm for the natural world. Drawn for a variety of reasons and using a rich mix of artistic techniques, the new theme of Women Artists presents another captivating cross-section of the artwork collections at the Natural History Museum.

 

Over the next 16 months, the specially designated cabinets in the Images of Nature Gallery will showcase the artworks of some of the best women natural history artists spanning the last four centuries. The work of over 60 different women artists, many on public display for the first time, will feature illustrations ranging from the delightful Tawny owls by Sarah Stone (ca. 1760-1844) through to the colourful Hawaiian fishes of E. Gertrude Norrie (active 1900s) and contemporary botanical artists such as Norma Gregory and Olga Makrushenko.

 

 

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The new theme also sees the publication of the fourth book in the Images of Nature series. Titled Women Artists, it features the artwork from over 100 women artists in the Library & Archives collections.

 

The exhibition opens on Saturday 8th March which also happens to be International Womens Day - a day which is celebrated in many different ways to recognise the achievements of women but also to raise awareness of the many social, economic, political situations worldwide affecting women.

 

Public access to the Gallery is free.

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As a pioneer in the field of depicting symbiotic relationships, Maria Sibylla Merian is credited with inspiring such key entomological texts as De Nederlandsche Insecten (Sepp & Sepp, 1762) & British Entomology (Curtis, 1823-1840). Even today, her work is valued not just for its aesthetic appeal but also for the accuracy of its scientific content.

 

Born in Frankfurt am Main in 1647, Maria was the daughter of a Matthaeus Merian the Elder, a very well-known etcher, and Johanna Catharina Heim. After Matthaeus died in 1650, Johanna remarried. As a pupil of Georg Flegel (1566-1638), and a celebrated botanical artist in his own right, Maria’s stepfather Jacob Marrell (1614-1681) was to play a key part in the encouragement and development of Maria’s artistic talent. By the age of 11, Maria had learnt the art of copper engraving from her stepfather; by the age of 13 she was keeping a journal of her efforts rearing silkworms, including notes on metamorphosis. Both interests went on to shape her life.

 

Married at 18 years of age to the artist Johan Andreas Graff (1637-1701), Maria gave birth to her eldest daughter (Johanna Helena) in Frankfurt Am Main in 1668. After relocating in 1670 to Nuremburg, the couples’ second daughter (Dorothea Maria) was born in 1678.

 

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Before, between, and after the birth of her daughters Maria continued developing her artistic talents. Using her own preparations of paints and dyes on vellum, paper, and linen, Maria produced a number of still life works but also shared her knowledge by teaching local girls flower painting and embroidery. Indeed, Maria’s first published work Neues Blumenbuch (1675-1680) was issued in parts intended as a pattern book for such pursuits.

 

In 1679, the first part of Maria’s Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumen-nahrung was published. The work focused on insect metamorphosis, drawn from first-hand observations of life cycles and food plants, rather than drawings of dried specimens (as was usual at the time). Jan Goedaert (1617–1668) was known as a painter of insects (including their life cycle); Botanical artists such as Georg Flegel and Balthasar ven der Ast had included insects in their paintings. However, linking insects to the specific plants they lived and fed on was quite a new approach.

 

Referred to by Maria as her “caterpillar books”, Der Raupen also served to demonstrate Maria’s refinement of making counterproofs, or transfer prints. Most illustrations produced via the engraving process are a mirror image of the original illustration – Maria added an extra step to the process, pressing a fresh sheet of paper against the still-wet print from a copperplate. This removed any physical impression of the copperplate from the finished product, instead leaving an outline for the final painting. Radically for an author of the time, Merian often coloured the engravings herself. 

 

A major change in Maria’s life came in 1681, with the death of her stepfather Jacob Marrell.  Returning to her mother’s home in Frankfurt Am Main, Maria went on to publish a second part of Der Raupen in 1683, which was issued with an additional 50 plates and accompanying text.

 

Maria’s life took another unexpected turn in 1685, when she entered the religious Labadist commune in Wieuwerd, Friesland, of which her brother Caspar was already a member. Her mother and daughters joined her in the move; her husband did not. Hosted in Castle Waltha, tropical insects and plants in the commune’s natural history collections caught Maria’s interest. Maria and her daughters moved to Amsterdam in 1691 after the deaths of her brother and mother (1686 and 1690 respectively). In their new home, all three became well known as natural history painters.

 

In 1699, Maria took the life-changing decision to travel to Surinam. Funded by selling off her artwork and natural history collections, Maria was accompanied by her daughter Dorothea rather than a male companion. Although Surinam was a Dutch territory at the time, for a woman to travel unescorted in this way was quite controversial. Maria made the concession of drafting her will, but proceeded with her journey nonetheless.

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2 months of sailing later, Maria and Dorothea arrived in Surinam. Despite the ridicule of local Dutch sugar planters, the two women collected, reared, and painted the insects and plants of urban and jungle areas. After a serious illness (perhaps Yellow Fever), Maria returned to Amsterdam in 1701 with an extensive collection of plants, insects, and artwork. All three formed the basis of her highly acclaimed work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, first published in Amsterdam in 1705. The publication in Latin and Dutch was funded in part by Maria’s commissioned art and engraving work.

 

Many editions were coloured by Maria’s equally talented daughters, but although Metamorphosis used Maria’s original watercolours for all the illustrations, only three of the engravings made were her own. Many of the insects and plants depicted in the work were new or little known to scientists, with plants such as pineapples, prickly custard-apples, frangipani, pomegranates, bananas, watermelons, guavas, and cashews all making an appearance. Plants depicted were both wild and cultured, due to having been chosen for their relationship with the insects they hosted.

 

A good indicator of the esteem in which Maria’s work was held might be considered the 1711 purchase by James Petiver of some of her artwork, on behalf of Sir Hans Sloane, and the 1717 purchase of her original drawings by Czar Peter the Great. Later, although not impressed with the cost of her works, Carl Linnaeus still cited her illustrations for several plant species and over 100 animal species. Since that time, At least 6 plants, 9 butterflies, 2 bugs, 1 spider, and 1 lizard have named in Maria’s honour.

 

Unfortunately Maria suffered a stroke in 1715, and was unable to continue her work. In 1717, at the age of 70, she died in Amsterdam.

 

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Shortly after Maria’s death, a third volume of Der Raupen was published by her daughter Dorothea; this was followed in 1719 by the second edition of Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. The second edition of Metamorphosis was again published only in Latin and Dutch, but included 12 additional plates – 10 by Maria, 2 after the collections of Albert Seba. These plates provoked criticism by the scientific community due to some baffling inaccuracies – one plate suggested that American frogs metamorphosed into tadpoles, as opposed to European tadpoles growing into frogs! Criticisms of Maria’s work also stemmed from her emphasis on biology and observation rather than taxonomy. Although the Linnean system of binomial nomenclature that is used today wasn’t introduced until 1753, taxonomy and taxonomic names were still considered crucial to the scientific process.

 

In all, Metamorphosis appeared in 5 editions. The 3rd and 5th editions (The Hague, 1726 and Paris, 1771) appeared in Latin and French; the 4th edition (Amsterdam, 1730), was a translation in Dutch.

 

Although her interest was primarily in insects, Maria’s realistic and detailed paintings of the plants they live on have ensured her work is valuable is not just to art lovers, but also to scientific community.

 

 

Bibliography.

 

Harvey, J.H.V.                               

Maria Sibylla Merian: The Surinam album (commentary) (London: The Folio Society, 2006).

 

Magee, J.                                    

Art of Nature: Three centuries of natural history art from around the world (London: Natural History Museum, 2009).

 

Ogilvie, M. & Harvey, J.                 

The biographical dictionary of women in science: Volume 2, L-Z (New York & London: Routledge, 2000). Pp.884-885

 

Pieters, F.F.J.M. & Winthagen, D.  

Maria Sibylla Merian, naturalist and artist (1647-1717): a commemoration on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of her birth. Archives of natural history. (London: Society for the History of Natural History). Vol. 26, part 1 (February, 1999), pp.1-153

 

Stearn, W. T.                                

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) as a botanical artist. Taxon (Utrecht: International Bureau for Plant Taxonomy and Nomenclature). Vol. 31, part 3 (August 1982), pp. 529-534.

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On Saturday 19th October, the Library & Archives collections united with the Palaeontology specimens, to illustrate the life and work of numerous women in Science, specifically the field of geology and palaeontology, as part of a Trowelblazers Wikipedia edit event. The event Twitter hashtag was #tbwiki.

 

I am confident the Library & Archives have not been involved in an event such as this before and it was a pleasure to work with Victoria Herridge, Zoe Hughes, Pip Brewer and Sandra Chapman from the NHM Earth Sciences Department to put the display together.

 

Those attending had an initial session on arrival at 10.00 am, on the basics of Wikipedia from John Cummings, our Wikimedian in Residence. He gave a background to the beast that is Wikipedia, showed us how to set up an account, and gave hints and tips on the practicalities of editing and creating pages.

 

After about an hour, the group made their way over to behind the scenes in the Library to see the display. Included were twenty original palaeontological specimens and thirty six original Library & Archives items, illustrating the lives of at least ten different women. This display was brought together uniquely for this event, and many of the items had not been next to each other since they came to the museum.

 

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Those covered included: Mary Anning (1799-1847), Dorothea Bate (1878-1951), Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968), Barbara Yelverton Marchioness of Hastings (1810-1858), Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz (1822-1907), Helen Muir Wood (1831-1924), Elizabeth Gray (1831-1924), Mary Home Smith (1784-1866) and (Lucy) Evelyn Cheesman (1881-1969).

 

The display was appropriately set in the former Earth Sciences Library public reading room, surrounded by books on geology, palaeontology and mineralogy, and looked over by the oil painting portrait of Mary Anning herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is usual the display set off many a discussion and ignited numerous questions, which is always so great. I always learn so much from listening to those around me, both staff and visitors. Being able to bring the L&A and specimens together to illustrate a common subject is such a priviledge. These were created and collected together by their original owner and so it is great to reunite them.

 

 

The reaction from the audience was really lovely.

 

Then it was back to the NHM boardroom to get stuck into the wiki page editing and creating, fueled by copious amounts for coffee and biscuits!

 

Towards the end of the day everyone returned to the Library for further discussion and studying of the items on display.

 

A thoroughly enjoyable day. I hope that everyone had a great time, and will keep up the focus on the Wikipedia pages on their return to the outside world.

 

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