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Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

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Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, she was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis—an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, she was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis—an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman. When she returned she produced a book that secured her reputation, only to have it savaged in the nineteenth century by scientists who disdained the work of “amateurs.” Exquisitely written and illustrated, Chrysalis takes us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian’s insights fuel a new branch of biology. Kim Todd brings to life a seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today.


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Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, she was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis—an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, she was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis—an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman. When she returned she produced a book that secured her reputation, only to have it savaged in the nineteenth century by scientists who disdained the work of “amateurs.” Exquisitely written and illustrated, Chrysalis takes us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian’s insights fuel a new branch of biology. Kim Todd brings to life a seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today.

30 review for Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manybooks

    Now theme and content wise Kim Todd's biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis) does indeed present a detailed and yes also very much meticulously researched portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian's life and times (a generally truthful depiction of an artist and scientist who might have lived in late 16th and early 17th century Germany and Holland but who with regard to her artistic endeavours and especially her science was definitely much ahe Now theme and content wise Kim Todd's biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis) does indeed present a detailed and yes also very much meticulously researched portrait of Maria Sibylla Merian's life and times (a generally truthful depiction of an artist and scientist who might have lived in late 16th and early 17th century Germany and Holland but who with regard to her artistic endeavours and especially her science was definitely much ahead of her time, in particular concerning insect metamorphosis and questions of what we now consider ecology). However and the above having been said and after I have in the past year both read and indeed totally loved and appreciated two geared towards older children but also very much suitable for interested adults biographies of Maria Sibylla Merian (Joyce Sidman's 2019 Sibert Medal winning The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science and Sarah B. Pomeroy's Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer), I guess I was absolutely and totally expecting Kim Todd's Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis to feature if not the same then at least still a very similar type of writing style as the two above mentioned and in my humble opinion utterly brilliant tomes, namely presenting just or for the most part only the known hard-core facts of Maria Sibylla Merian's life story (with perhaps a few cultural and historic supplemental inclusions and discussions regarding 16th/17th century Europe, the history of science, details on the Dutch colony of Surinam etc.) and all recounted in a readable, concise but at the same time never once overly dry and monotonous style of narrational expression. And sadly, I am sorry to have to say that from a personal reading pleasure and expectation point of departure, particularly Kim Todd's writing style has simply and yes completely not been to my personal tastes, for instead of being captivated and feeling engaged by her Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis I have instead found Todd's writing, her printed words woefully dry, dragging and yes, very much annoyingly tedious (and her authorial asides and speculations about what Maria Sibylla Merian might have thought, what her emotions might have been, that has indeed been at best a bit presumptive and at worst simply way way too much of Kim Todd's modern 21st century perspectives rearing their collective heads). And therefore, while Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis has content wise been sufficiently informative and educational, I really cannot consider more than two stars, as Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis has truth be told been simply an often frustrating and sadly infuriating reading slog for me and has thus in no way even somewhat, even remotely been as brilliant and as interesting as Joyce Sidman's and Sarah B. Pomeroy's oh so wonderfully educational and never imbued with too much personal speculation and innuendo "children's" biographies of Maria Sibylla Merian (not to mention that both The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian's Art Changed Science and Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer include an absolute treasure trove of Merian's artwork, whilst Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis contain only a very few such selections, and except for about eight very small colour images at the back of the book, appearing mostly in often rather blurry black and white).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mitzie

    I just finished this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. Other reviewers give you the gist what it's about - Maria Sibylla Merian upended the old curiosity cabinet by placing butterflies, catepillars and other insects in their natural habitats in her engravings/watercolors. A forerunner of ecology, she gave us a new way to think about a vast landscape of tiny creatures and their relations to host plants, to predators, etc, as well as her endless enthusiasm for the study of metamorphosis I just finished this book and I can't recommend it highly enough. Other reviewers give you the gist what it's about - Maria Sibylla Merian upended the old curiosity cabinet by placing butterflies, catepillars and other insects in their natural habitats in her engravings/watercolors. A forerunner of ecology, she gave us a new way to think about a vast landscape of tiny creatures and their relations to host plants, to predators, etc, as well as her endless enthusiasm for the study of metamorphosis. And she did it in the 17th century, traveling to Surinam with her adult daughter to paint and study when she was well into her 50s. Some reviewers suggest perhaps too much creative license was taken by author Kim Todd, but I disagree. Todd is a sensitive writer and the creative license she employs is put to great use in the most respectful manner. The leaps she makes are natural ones, not forced. This volume is a gift to naturalists everywhere. I highly recommend reading this volume alongside a good selection of Merian's work, such as can be found in "Maria Sibylla Merian: The St. Petersburg Watercolors". The Getty museum in Los Angeles just hosted a retrospective of her work and while the exhibit is over, you can still access the museums fine on-line slide show of her work through this link: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/... . If you enjoy this book even half as much as I did it will be well worth your reading time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    4.5 stars This is a lovely biography of an early female scientist, by an author who clearly put a lot of care and interest into learning about Maria Sibylla Merian and her work. Born in Germany in the mid-17th century, Merian trained as an artist but was fascinated by the metamorphosis of insects from childhood. She continued to study them throughout her life, observing and creating gorgeous paintings of their life stages, and ultimately traveled from Amsterdam to Suriname in 1699 to study insect 4.5 stars This is a lovely biography of an early female scientist, by an author who clearly put a lot of care and interest into learning about Maria Sibylla Merian and her work. Born in Germany in the mid-17th century, Merian trained as an artist but was fascinated by the metamorphosis of insects from childhood. She continued to study them throughout her life, observing and creating gorgeous paintings of their life stages, and ultimately traveled from Amsterdam to Suriname in 1699 to study insects there, in one of the earliest European scientific voyages. She was a pioneer of ecology: studying life in its natural context rather than collecting dead specimens to observe under a microscope. A challenge the author faces is that little material about Merian’s personal life survived, though she left lots of notes and artwork. So there is some speculation here, though Todd often suggests multiple possibilities where we don’t know the answer rather than pushing for a particular interpretation. What we do know about Merian’s life is so tantalizing that I wish we had more: what really happened in her marriage, which resulted in a divorce at a time when this was highly unusual? What led her to join, and then leave, the severe, cult-like Labadist sect, and what was life like in it? There’s a lot we don’t know, but Todd fills in many of the blanks with history, by researching life in Germany, the Netherlands and Suriname at the time Merian lived in these places. I’m surprised others have found the book dry; to me it had a quiet warmth that really drew me in. Unusually for a biography, this book continues well after Merian’s death, which occurs on page 225 out of 282. It then follows her daughters, her scientific legacy, and recent developments in ecology and studies of metamorphosis, all of which adds a lot to the book. I’d love to see more biographies engage with the context of their subjects in this way. There are also black-and-white illustrations as well as some color plates, many showing Merian’s work, though for me reading this alongside the illustrated children’s book Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer was great because that one provides such a wealth of color paintings by Merian. In the end, I enjoyed this a lot: it’s intelligent, accessible, and wide-ranging in its subject matter while telling what we know of the story of a remarkable woman. I love that Todd wrote this book at all: it’s surprisingly hard to find historical biographies (at least in English) of people who spoke languages other than English, and if they’re women without adventurous sex lives, forget it! But from these biographies Merian emerges as a fascinating person who deserves to be remembered.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christie

    I just could not get myself really interested in this book. Its not that I don't like science (I do) and its not that I am disinterested in stories of women excelling in science (I am), but this book was so dry, it bored me. Now I recognize fully that it has received good reviews, so I think its only fair to disclose that maybe it was the writing style that didn't really gel with my personal tastes. But I really think she could have said a lot more with less-the excessively detailed writing lost I just could not get myself really interested in this book. Its not that I don't like science (I do) and its not that I am disinterested in stories of women excelling in science (I am), but this book was so dry, it bored me. Now I recognize fully that it has received good reviews, so I think its only fair to disclose that maybe it was the writing style that didn't really gel with my personal tastes. But I really think she could have said a lot more with less-the excessively detailed writing lost the forest for the trees. In summary, it read like a book that a phD student wrote to fulfill their dissertation commitments.

  5. 4 out of 5

    QOH

    This is the seventeenth/eighteenth century life and legacy of a remarkable artist and scientist--and a woman, a German, a divorcee, a religious fanatic, and world traveler, all. Maria Merian studied and painted and engraved images of insects, ultimately traveling, in her fifties, to Surinam to continue her work, before returning to Europe. This is an engaging, delightful book. Where other biographers complain about the lack of source material (or worse, take guesses), Ms. Todd fills the gaps wit This is the seventeenth/eighteenth century life and legacy of a remarkable artist and scientist--and a woman, a German, a divorcee, a religious fanatic, and world traveler, all. Maria Merian studied and painted and engraved images of insects, ultimately traveling, in her fifties, to Surinam to continue her work, before returning to Europe. This is an engaging, delightful book. Where other biographers complain about the lack of source material (or worse, take guesses), Ms. Todd fills the gaps with rich details from Merian's surroundings. Although we can never truly get within her subject's head, for Merian left such a scanty record aside from her art and her notes, there was never a point where I felt the lack. Highly recommended even if, like me, you are a little on the squeamish side about insects.

  6. 5 out of 5

    rachel

    So one of my least favorite things about autobiographies is when the author takes huge leaps of assumption on the inner lives of their subjects. 'As a woman, she must have felt this about that in this time,' etc. But in her defense, there was no other way to write about Maria Sibylla Merian- what a fascinating lady- gallivanting around Europe & South America collecting, studying and drawing bugs- incredibly detailedly (not a word i think), beautifully and prolifically and leaving almost no reco So one of my least favorite things about autobiographies is when the author takes huge leaps of assumption on the inner lives of their subjects. 'As a woman, she must have felt this about that in this time,' etc. But in her defense, there was no other way to write about Maria Sibylla Merian- what a fascinating lady- gallivanting around Europe & South America collecting, studying and drawing bugs- incredibly detailedly (not a word i think), beautifully and prolifically and leaving almost no record of anything else. Neat. It made me want to seek out reproductions of her work. And it left me with great questions about the nonsense western people believed several hundred years ago and how they went about forming/changing/adapting new beliefs. But really how could people living agriculture based lives believe that some critters were products of spontaneous generation. As told here anyway, the main reason to seek proof against spontaneous generation was because if critters- or maggots actually- could generate at the drop of a dime- or a cow in this case- then that 'fact' disturbed their belief in god. Because god created all things in the first six days, that's why. And really only a very few people were actually observing what was going on right in front of their noses in their hedges and gardens all the time. A good metaphor for the mess we're in today. So. I guess I kind of loved this book in content, but the author's style was a drag.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janet Roberts

    I saw this great book, opened at a different page each week, in the British Museum in London. The illustration was just breathtaking, having been created by Maria Sibylla Merian. I came away determined to find out more about this woman, so bought this sturdy book by Kim Todd. Initially I was a little disappointed that there are so few illustrations, but the story is enralling. She was born in Germany 13 years after Galileo was prosecuted for proclaiming that the earth orbited the sun. In 1699, at I saw this great book, opened at a different page each week, in the British Museum in London. The illustration was just breathtaking, having been created by Maria Sibylla Merian. I came away determined to find out more about this woman, so bought this sturdy book by Kim Todd. Initially I was a little disappointed that there are so few illustrations, but the story is enralling. She was born in Germany 13 years after Galileo was prosecuted for proclaiming that the earth orbited the sun. In 1699, at the age of 52, she sailed to the new world where she studied caterpillars and giant flying cockroaches to increase her knowledge of metamorphosis - what a woman!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Mcbroom

    I lunched with a group of ladies yesterday and all they talked about was how old they were and they could no longer do things that younger people do! BORING! Age is a state of mind. Well obviously they did not know Maria Sibylla Merian. After Galeio and before Darwin, at ag e 50, Merian left her husband and sailed from Amersterdam to Suriyam to study the metamorsphis of butterflies. Disguising her interests as art, she influenced naturalists from generation to generation.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

    I felt that this dragged at times and I was expecting more of an actual biography of Merian. The author used too many "maybes" and "what ifs" to make this a compelling look into Merian's life. Instead, for me, this became more of a look into the history of the birth of biology and ecology as a science. I would recommend this only for people with a strong interest in the biological sciences. I felt that this dragged at times and I was expecting more of an actual biography of Merian. The author used too many "maybes" and "what ifs" to make this a compelling look into Merian's life. Instead, for me, this became more of a look into the history of the birth of biology and ecology as a science. I would recommend this only for people with a strong interest in the biological sciences.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Edith

    2 and 1/2 stars. This book celebrates the life of a unique contributor to scientific knowledge in the 17th c.--a woman, a wife, a mother, and a divorcée, who yet was a successful artist, engraver, scientific observer, business woman, traveller, and writer and illustrator of books. Remarkable for a woman in her time and place, and her artistic and scientific achievements would have been remarkable for anyone. A student of insects since the age of 13, she was fascinated by the process of metamorph 2 and 1/2 stars. This book celebrates the life of a unique contributor to scientific knowledge in the 17th c.--a woman, a wife, a mother, and a divorcée, who yet was a successful artist, engraver, scientific observer, business woman, traveller, and writer and illustrator of books. Remarkable for a woman in her time and place, and her artistic and scientific achievements would have been remarkable for anyone. A student of insects since the age of 13, she was fascinated by the process of metamorphosis. The child of an artistic publishing family, she was able to present this process on paper in such a fashion that it added immeasurably to the growing perception that insects were not created by spontaneous generation. Her hand-colored engravings are also remarkably lovely. Reading this book was a bit of a slog. Ms. Todd has a consciously literary, but (to me) not very engaging style, so much of the abundant information about the state of biological science in the 17th century, interesting in itself, is hard to plow through. Much about Maria Sibylla Merian's life is unknown, and it is natural to speculate about why she might have done something. Ms Todd's speculations about why Marian left her husband, and why she entered the monastic Labadist community with her mother and daughters, however, boldly go very far in the direction of the imagined. I felt by the end of the book that I was better off with the ten or so pages of unspeculative biography included in the edition of Merian's New Book of Flowers I just read. Worse, there are many small errors. Ms. Todd could have used a good copyeditor, if they still existed. (Although that would not have corrected her misunderstanding of plates in Merian's New Book of Flowers, which I think she underrates.) Maps might have been helpful. This book contains a lot of good information, but winnowing it out is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. I would recommend it only to people who are willing to read anything about Maria Sibylla or who are interested in the development of European science in the 17thc. I highly recommend Merian's own works, which are very beautiful indeed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    An excellent read. Ticked a lot of boxes - history, science, women, art, travel, religion - yet managed to pull it all together. I'm not sure that all the speculation about what Maria Merian might have seen or thought was really necessary... it might be fun to write a book about a contemporary scientist from 300 years in the future and fill it full of such speculation, but I think it would sound unnecessary and trite. Here it was saved by being 300 years in the past and based on good research. A An excellent read. Ticked a lot of boxes - history, science, women, art, travel, religion - yet managed to pull it all together. I'm not sure that all the speculation about what Maria Merian might have seen or thought was really necessary... it might be fun to write a book about a contemporary scientist from 300 years in the future and fill it full of such speculation, but I think it would sound unnecessary and trite. Here it was saved by being 300 years in the past and based on good research. And the idea of an extraordinary woman living alongside so many other extraordinary women of the time was exactly what came across to me before reaching that very conclusion written in the last chapter.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Skye

    Phenomenal! Love the writing style, the meticulous research and the relevance to today. Such a huge accomplishment and I’d love to write a book like this one day!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lsmith

    A book about Maria Sibylla Merian, a woman who was early in the field of insect and plant study and painting, with a unique emphasis on metamorphasis. The book starts off by disclosing that there is very little known about her except for a few archival materials, and her illustrations. But Kim Todd, the author, combines her story wonderfully and informatively with the history of the times (mostly late 1600s, early 1700s). Todd was clearly enchanted by her subject and her illustrations, and makes A book about Maria Sibylla Merian, a woman who was early in the field of insect and plant study and painting, with a unique emphasis on metamorphasis. The book starts off by disclosing that there is very little known about her except for a few archival materials, and her illustrations. But Kim Todd, the author, combines her story wonderfully and informatively with the history of the times (mostly late 1600s, early 1700s). Todd was clearly enchanted by her subject and her illustrations, and makes it clear that for a woman to be doing this work at this time displayed a unique spirit and drive. The book flap says that Todd has a degree in "creative non-fiction," which I'd never heard of, but that's exactly what this book does, creatively tells a true story. She takes a subject that I would have thought was not especially interesting, to me, and just makes it soar. This is an area of study that I had no idea I was interested in! The book left me feeling smarter and optimistic about, well, life by tell the story with the emphasis on a woman overcoming large obstacles through her fascination with metamorphasis, but as Todd portrays it...transformation. The only thing I wish was more information on what metamorphasis actually is. While it was explained towards the end, it was the only thing in the book that I didn't feel that I grasped. This book made me aware of what a unique scientific process metamorphasis is, as well as a wonderful metaphor. I was enough intrigued to want to learn more on my own. That says alot!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Enjoyed this story of a woman who had to fight against the social norms and expectations of the day (early 17th century) to satisfy her need to research and *know*. She was fascinated by the concept of metamorphosis at a time when many scientists and philosophers simply assumed the principle of spontaneous generation explained the appearance of flies on rotting meat, or roaches and mice from soiled clothes. She used natural observation and meticulous scientific illustration to document the proces Enjoyed this story of a woman who had to fight against the social norms and expectations of the day (early 17th century) to satisfy her need to research and *know*. She was fascinated by the concept of metamorphosis at a time when many scientists and philosophers simply assumed the principle of spontaneous generation explained the appearance of flies on rotting meat, or roaches and mice from soiled clothes. She used natural observation and meticulous scientific illustration to document the process of metamorphosis in insects, especially butterflies. Eventually, she traveled to Surinam to research and document the unknown South American insect and plant life because she had exhausted the subjects available to study in the region around Amsterdam. She struggled with being taken seriously by the scientific community and her reputation as an illustrator/naturalist went through a metamorphosis as her work was ridiculed, then plagiarized, then commended well after her death. This book has a fascinating story line and narrative voice. It's reads like a novel and made me look at nature study and appreciation as a practice of life, not just a single act you *do*. The author shows how our current understanding of ecology and the study of a whole ecosystem began with Maria's work.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paula Koneazny

    I really enjoyed this biography of 17th c. artist & naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. The combination of her fascinating story & Todd's elegant prose makes for a great reading experience. I saw a copy of Merian's "Metamorphosis of the insects of Surinam" among the rare manuscripts on display at the Huntington Library in San Marino in May. Her detailed drawings are amazing. In 1699 Merian set off from Amsterdam with her daughter Dorothea to travel to the Dutch colony of Surinam, where they stayed I really enjoyed this biography of 17th c. artist & naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. The combination of her fascinating story & Todd's elegant prose makes for a great reading experience. I saw a copy of Merian's "Metamorphosis of the insects of Surinam" among the rare manuscripts on display at the Huntington Library in San Marino in May. Her detailed drawings are amazing. In 1699 Merian set off from Amsterdam with her daughter Dorothea to travel to the Dutch colony of Surinam, where they stayed for 2 years while Maria studied & drew life in the tropical forest. She was one of the first European naturalists to recognize that life was different in the canopy than on the ground, & that it was important to study, for example, "what a caterpillar ate and what might eat it, the relationship of an organism to its environment" instead of just marking one species off from another. She thought in terms of ecology more than a century and a half before German zoologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term "oecologie" in 1866. This link, thanks to another Goodreads reviewer, provides several good examples of Merian's art: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/...

  16. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    All in all, this book was well worth my time to read it. And it wasn't quick for me to read. I found this book by accident on the library shelf, and I ended up learning a lot about someone I'd never heard of before, who was innovative in a field I'd known only superficially before. I have only two criticisms, both of which are more my hang-ups than the book's. This a well-researched book. It is obviously not fiction, but at times it read like a dissertation or a textbook. The footnotes, bibliogra All in all, this book was well worth my time to read it. And it wasn't quick for me to read. I found this book by accident on the library shelf, and I ended up learning a lot about someone I'd never heard of before, who was innovative in a field I'd known only superficially before. I have only two criticisms, both of which are more my hang-ups than the book's. This a well-researched book. It is obviously not fiction, but at times it read like a dissertation or a textbook. The footnotes, bibliography and index only reinforced that feeling. The author went to great lengths to detail the social and scientific environments that existed during Merian's life, as well as potential influences of hers and who she influenced. But I tended to speed-read (or skip) long sections about the other artists, collectors, philosophers, and contemporaries of hers. I was impatient to get to Merian's story.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    There were parts of this book I just loved. I'm a butterfly fanatic of sorts and a feminist of sorts so it was incredible to read about a woman in the early 17th century who studed metamorphosis & butterflies! The book includes examples of some of the many watercolors and etchings Merian created while studying the caterpillar and butterfly. The book is categorized as 'creative non-fiction'. It's all facts with a little bit of speculation on the part of the auther. However, the narrative lost me There were parts of this book I just loved. I'm a butterfly fanatic of sorts and a feminist of sorts so it was incredible to read about a woman in the early 17th century who studed metamorphosis & butterflies! The book includes examples of some of the many watercolors and etchings Merian created while studying the caterpillar and butterfly. The book is categorized as 'creative non-fiction'. It's all facts with a little bit of speculation on the part of the auther. However, the narrative lost me at times. She included so many names and scads of information that it became cluttered. Overall, it was a fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of the natural sciences & butterflies.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    An artist turned naturalist, Maria Sibylla Merian was born just thirteen years after Galileo was prosecuted for claiming the earth orbited the sun. But in 1699, more than a century before Darwin or Humboldt, she sailed from Amsterdam to South America on an expedition to study insect metamorphosis. It was an unheard of journey for a naturalist at that time, much less a woman, and she undertook it at the age of fifty-two, with only her daughter for company.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ruth

    In the late 1600s, early 1700s, a woman named Maria S. Merian works as an illustrator and naturalist, creating amazing renditions of caterpillars and other insects. The author does not have lot to go on, but she manages to create a readable and interesting story. The last chapters get a bit heavy on the women's studies angle--but otherwise, it is a decent book. In the late 1600s, early 1700s, a woman named Maria S. Merian works as an illustrator and naturalist, creating amazing renditions of caterpillars and other insects. The author does not have lot to go on, but she manages to create a readable and interesting story. The last chapters get a bit heavy on the women's studies angle--but otherwise, it is a decent book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Desertblues

    I am curious to read about this 17th century woman artist/botanist who was of a great importance in showing the world metamorphosis. Having been drawing nature in detail and small scale these last few years, I look forward to Maria Sybilla Merian's drawings.(and I think it's time for me to do some travelling again........far, far away). I am curious to read about this 17th century woman artist/botanist who was of a great importance in showing the world metamorphosis. Having been drawing nature in detail and small scale these last few years, I look forward to Maria Sybilla Merian's drawings.(and I think it's time for me to do some travelling again........far, far away).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    I was so excited to read about Maria Sibylla Merian, a truly amazing person, but this book just didn't hold my interest. I didn't even finish it...I just couldn't, which is rare. I realize that not much is known about her life, so the author had to extrapolate, etc. I will just have to be content with the snippets of information about her that I can find from other sources. I was so excited to read about Maria Sibylla Merian, a truly amazing person, but this book just didn't hold my interest. I didn't even finish it...I just couldn't, which is rare. I realize that not much is known about her life, so the author had to extrapolate, etc. I will just have to be content with the snippets of information about her that I can find from other sources.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Not all that scholarly (how is her father in law a high school teacher in early modern Europe?), but very interesting and a good introduction to Merian's life and the natural history milieu at the time. Not all that scholarly (how is her father in law a high school teacher in early modern Europe?), but very interesting and a good introduction to Merian's life and the natural history milieu at the time.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    terribly boring- I didn't finish terribly boring- I didn't finish

  24. 5 out of 5

    Beverly J.

    Just too dry for my taste. What a wonderful woman, so far ahead of her time. I wish I had more patience, I would love to learn more about her.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    A little too dry for my liking. Each time I felt like putting it down for good the narrative would pick up and propel me through until the next rough patch.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    "The complex interplay on South American soil was captured by an earlier female visitor. Spy, publisher, playwright, the notorious Aphra Behn had traveled to Surinam in the 1660s while the colony was still under English control. She would have been closer to Dorothea's age than Merian's when she was there--twenty-three or twenty-four--and eager to embrace novel experiences. While Merian always stood firmly on the line of propriety, to the extent that she hardly ever mentioned the mating of her b "The complex interplay on South American soil was captured by an earlier female visitor. Spy, publisher, playwright, the notorious Aphra Behn had traveled to Surinam in the 1660s while the colony was still under English control. She would have been closer to Dorothea's age than Merian's when she was there--twenty-three or twenty-four--and eager to embrace novel experiences. While Merian always stood firmly on the line of propriety, to the extent that she hardly ever mentioned the mating of her butterflies, Behn didn't seem to know or care if such a line existed. In her pays, novels and poems, she wrote about sex and impotence, treachery, politics, hypocrisy. She would have mocked down Waltha Castle brick by brick. Behn liked Surinam, and mourned Charles II's letting it go....In the swap of Surinam for Manhattan, Behn may be the only one who thought the English got the worse part of the bargain. Behn descries a lush environment of constant spring. Amusements for a young woman from Europe consist of seeking out "tiger" cubs while the mother was away from the den (jaguars, most likely), traveling eight days upriver to visit a remote Amerindian village, sitting down to eat. . ." "...It's a marvel, she writes, "how such vast trees, as big as English oaks, could take footing on so solid a rock, and in so little earth as covered that rock, but all things by nature there are rare, delightful, and wonderful." "Against this background, Behn sets a romance that is part Othello, part Arabian Nights. Her 1688 novel, Oroonoko, tells the story of a young African prince who has the misfortune to fall in love with Imoinda, a woman coveted by his grandfather, the king. Foolishly, secretly, the lovers meet anyway and are discovered, adding insult to the King's injury, and Imoinda is sold into slavery. Lured onto an English slave trader's ship with a false invitation to a feast, Oroonoko is soon also in chains, bound for Surinam. ...he fears the child will be born a slave. In come cases, the reality was not much less grisly than Oroonoko portrays. (As a result of treaties between Amerindians and the Dutch, some tribes could be enslaved, while others, like the Caribs, Warao and Arawaks, could not.)" Metamorphosis "To some, it appears so complex, so unexplainable, that it must be miraculous. Creationists use it as a prop for intelligent design, claiming that no one has explained how organs and bodily structures can rearrange themselves so completely. A squirming, consuming larva one day still and turns into a pupa, becoming completely immobile . . . Bernard d'Abrera, in his 2001 book Concise Atlas of Butterflies of the world, complains at length about the misguided theory of evolution via natural selection. At the height of forums on college campuses, creationist debaters will issue the final challenge, daring opponents to "explain metamorphosis. Wonder is built into the language. One of the earliest terms for "butterfly," used by Aristotle, was "psyche," also the word for "breath" and "soul." The "larva," the creeping early stage, takes its name from "mask," but its Latin roots are tangled with the notions of "ghost" and hobgoblin" too. The "pupa," the stage of rapid change in an immobile shell, means "girl" and "doll" in Latin. In German, Merian's native tongue, it still has that meaning. In English it became a "puppet," waiting for animation. "Chrysalis," the usually naked and often particularly beautiful pupa built by a butterfly, comes from the Greek for "gold," commemorating the metallic glow or spots on species like the monarch and painted lady. The "cocoon," the protective silk enclosure many moths spin around the pupa, comes from the French for "shell." The "imago," the winged final stage indicates that everything before was just practice or a mask for the revealed true form, as it has the meaning of "natural shape." Of all these phrases, perhaps nothing is so lovely as "imaginal disk" used to describe the pockets of cells in the caterpillar that become complex eyes and wings. They are, of course, the seeds of the imago, but it's easy to see them too as the aspirations of the caterpillar, imagining its future. While many natural phenomena capture a grim vision of life and potential -- the rosebud doomed to fading -- metamorphosis offers the reverse trajectory. A humble worm becomes an iridescent moth. A plague of caterpillars turns into a blessing of butterflies. It is a biological adaptation that embodies hope, from religious use of the butterfly as a symbol of rebirth to high school girls who tattoo butterflies on their arms, a promise blossoming." (12-13)

  27. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    Maria Sibylla Merian smashed the barriers women faced in Europe in the late 1600 and early 1700s: she became a recognized scientific artist, naturalist, explorer and author. Her accomplishments stand alone yet when considering that her husband deserted her, that she had a family to raise and was leading the way in the field of entomology, she’s that much more impressive. Yet Kim Todd’s book, Chrysalis falls flat. The writing is disjointed—Todd jumps around in time periods, doesn’t write with cla Maria Sibylla Merian smashed the barriers women faced in Europe in the late 1600 and early 1700s: she became a recognized scientific artist, naturalist, explorer and author. Her accomplishments stand alone yet when considering that her husband deserted her, that she had a family to raise and was leading the way in the field of entomology, she’s that much more impressive. Yet Kim Todd’s book, Chrysalis falls flat. The writing is disjointed—Todd jumps around in time periods, doesn’t write with clarity, and frequently wanders off topic with historical insights that detract rather than add value. Too bad since the story of Merian is compelling. Despite the book’s downfall, some highlights: Merian, born in Frankfurt in 1647, spent most of her life in Amsterdam. Her father was a book publisher and engraver, yet died when she three-years old. Her mother remarried and it’s from her stepfather that Merian learned to draw. As a child Merian became obsessed with the metamorphosis process of caterpillars becoming butterflies. During her era there was scant knowledge of metamorphosis or entomology. Yet butterflies fascinated Merian. She studied through hands-on investigation insects, caterpillars especially, meticulously documenting the process via note taking, drawing and illustrating. She also drew plants. She was one of the first botanical artists. She published three books on Butterflies (and plants), the first volume titled The Caterpillars' Marvelous Transformation and Strange Floral Food published 1679 when Merian was thirty-two years old. Her final work was her most significant, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium published in 1705, it was the result of her studies of plants and insects on her exploratory trip to South America to the Dutch Colony of Surinam in 1699. Most remarkable was she went to this remote Dutch Colony (which existed because of sugar and cotton plantations) at the age of 52 with her 21-year old daughter, Dorthea. Her goal was to write a book about insects and plant life, including medicinal plants. She also planned to collect specimens to sell, which was a source of income for Merian in addition to her writings and sale of botanical illustrations. Specimen sales were a lucrative business in Europe during the 18th century when Cabinets of Curiosities was a phenomenon. Todd writes of the two-months long journey by sea (!) and of her and her daughter’s arrival to the small, remote city of the colony, Paramaribo, Surinam. On a side note, Surinam became an independent country, Suriname in the 1950s, and is bordered by Guyana, Brazil, and French Guiana. It’s difficult to imagine what the conditions must have been like. I’d guess pretty brutal with dense mosquitoes, a humid climate and lack of infrastructure. Todd writes how Merian found it difficult to collect specimens, notably that the rain forest was a challenge given it “shielded the insects, plant life like a fortress” (165). But she persevered. Todd describes how Merian traveled by boat up the Surinam River collecting specimens and learning about the natural world from several of the Amerindians she met along the way, some from Guinea and Angola. She also visited plantations to search for insects, yet needed permission to do so. She used her connections back in Amsterdam to gain access. Slavery was part of colonial life that Merian encountered, but she didn’t write much about the conditions, as Todd describes how the majority of Merian’s note books were specific to scientific observations with few personal insights. Merian returned to Amsterdam in 1701 and worked on getting her book Metamorphosis published, assuming a great deal of financial risk to do so. Large illustrated books were expensive to publish, and publishers (and authors) would often seek patrons ahead of time to offset costs of publication. The first edition, published in 1705, did not do well as subsequent editions, yet there was still considerable interest by collectors including Hans Sloane, one of Britain’s most renowned natural specimen collectors (his collection was the foundation of the British Museum) who purchased one of Merian’s first books. Her reputation as a collector and expert flourished after the book’s publication, she had visitors that included scientists, naturalists and collectors. Even after her death Metamorphosis was consulted and studied for its descriptions and drawings of plants and insects. Merian died in 1717 at the age of 69. She left a rich history of writings of scientific exploration and observations along with hundreds of drawings and engraved copper plates of remarkable works. Her works are still admired and studied today and in 2016, Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium was re-published with updated scientific descriptions. As well, Merian’s botanical illustrations, drawings and watercolors are held in museums throughout the world including in Rijkmuseum, Kunstmuseum, University of California, Davis and the American Museum of Natural History. I can’t say I’d recommend Chrysalis as a good read, but if interested in learning more about Merian you’ll get the gist from Wikipedia. There’s also a children’s book about Merian that’s highly recommend by Goodreads reviewers, Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist/Scientist/Adventurer.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    A fascinating and compelling book about a pioneering entomologist, Chrysalis combines the best aspects of biography, history, travel log, and science into a single gripping story. Maria Sibylla Merian was a woman far ahead of her time, an insect enthusiast who studied the process of metamorphosis when most people thought insects were spawned spontaneously and a skilled artist who insisted on sketching her highly detailed portraits from life in a period when outlandish and exaggerated drawings we A fascinating and compelling book about a pioneering entomologist, Chrysalis combines the best aspects of biography, history, travel log, and science into a single gripping story. Maria Sibylla Merian was a woman far ahead of her time, an insect enthusiast who studied the process of metamorphosis when most people thought insects were spawned spontaneously and a skilled artist who insisted on sketching her highly detailed portraits from life in a period when outlandish and exaggerated drawings were popular. In addition to her incredibly full and adventurous life this book also includes the fall from popularity to obscurity Maria's reputation and work suffered after her death. Discussing why Maria was dismissed and ridiculed as a foolish old lady after her death for making claims that she witnessed and were later corroborated by other scientists is a crucial and fascinating part of her story and the author takes great pains to emphasize that. This is an enjoyable book for science lovers in general or entomologists in particular, for fans of history books or biographies or anyone interested in interesting individuals that history has largely forgotten.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janta

    Though well-written and researched, I just didn't care for the author's style -- there were a lot of "maybes" and "perhapses" and so on, particularly with regards to Merian's early life. Understandable, and shouldn't necessarily be taken as a bad thing ; there's not much in the way of documentation about that time period in Merian's life, and honestly it seems likely that she lived as many of her fellow women would have done in that time and place. It's just not my thing, I guess. I was also put Though well-written and researched, I just didn't care for the author's style -- there were a lot of "maybes" and "perhapses" and so on, particularly with regards to Merian's early life. Understandable, and shouldn't necessarily be taken as a bad thing ; there's not much in the way of documentation about that time period in Merian's life, and honestly it seems likely that she lived as many of her fellow women would have done in that time and place. It's just not my thing, I guess. I was also put off by the illustrations, more so than I'd thought I'd be (which, again, is on me). If you're at all squeamish about pictures of insects (and spiders, unfortunately!), take that into account before picking this up.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Heather Jones

    I picked this book up off the browsing shelf at the Mercantile Library, without having ever heard of Maria Sibylla Merian, mostly because it had an appealing cover. Besides, the Mercantile's collection is small but well chosen; once you're inside, you can be reasonably sure that all of the books are good. That gives me a lot of confidence when checking things out on impulse. This book is a fascinating story about an early naturalist who is largely forgotten by history, an inspiring tale of a woma I picked this book up off the browsing shelf at the Mercantile Library, without having ever heard of Maria Sibylla Merian, mostly because it had an appealing cover. Besides, the Mercantile's collection is small but well chosen; once you're inside, you can be reasonably sure that all of the books are good. That gives me a lot of confidence when checking things out on impulse. This book is a fascinating story about an early naturalist who is largely forgotten by history, an inspiring tale of a woman who went her own way in a time when women's choices were limited, and a surprising example of how an author can write a biography of a person about whom little is known.

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