On our last day in London in June, I went off to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. This museum, which showcases all aspects of the Royal Collection, is a hidden gem. It’s shop, with the ubiquitous “Buckingham Palace” shopping bags, is a must-see for tourists, who rarely venture to see the museum.
My object in visiting was an exhibition of Scottish painters, 1750 to 1900. But what totally captivated me was the lyrical and scientific botanical art of Maria Sibylla Merian in an adjoining gallery. Born in Germany in 1646, Maria Merian was a naturalist and scientific illustrator, who learned her craft from her step-father.
In 1699, Merian was granted permission to travel from Holland to the Dutch colony of Surinam (present day Suriname, neighbor of Guyana) in South America to collect specimens of plants from which to paint. She became interested in the little known connection between the plants and the insects that feed on them. This flower is called Cardinal’s Guard and on it is perched the Giant Owl Butterfly and its caterpillar.
In this handsome plate, the pomelo orange is detailed with the Green Banded Urania Moth. Merian would rear the moths and butterflies from the caterpillar stage so that she could paint them.
The petals of the Confederate Rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) change color during the day, as shown in this early morning white flower and the full blown pink (the end of the day). Its pollinator, the swallowtail butterfly, is also shown in both male and female versions.
Merian became ill and had to return to Amsterdam so it was on board ship that these two creatures hatched. She added this Harlequin Beetle to the illustration because it was so rare to her and added to the composition. The other on the leaf on top are the stages of the Monkey Slug Moth.
Although pineapples had already been seen in Europe, Merian thought they were the most majestic of fruits and found they were plentiful in Surinam. Here they are paired with cockroaches……..don’t ask!
The Rothschildia Moth fascinated Merian and she sent some back to Holland with the hopes of starting a commercial breeding industry with their strong silk. It is shown here with its cocoon and a brilliant Seville orange.
King George III and Peter The Great collected Merian’s work including “Metamorphosis Insectoriun Surinamenisium” which was published in 1705. Her beautiful work, looking as fresh as when she painted it, it still highly prized. This brilliant banana flower showing all its stages of growth is paired with a Bull’s Eye Moth. Raise a toast to a fascinating, strong woman breaking all kinds of 17C barriers!