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Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)

Golden Tegu lizard c. 1705-10

Watercolour and bodycolour with gum arabic over lightly etched lines on vellum | 29.8 x 40.2 cm (whole object) | RCIN 921219

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  • A depiction of a Golden Tegu lizard (Tupinambis teguixin). The agile and aggressive tegu is one of the largest lizards in the world, reaching a length of 1.2 m (4 feet). The Golden Tegu is native to Suriname; the name means ‘giant lizard’ in local dialect. This is a worked up counterproof, printed onto vellum. Another version, also counterproof, is in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York (accession number 2001.10). A third depiction is in the British Museum (SL,5275.62).

    Maria Sibylla Merian was the daughter of the printmaker Matthias Merian, and the step-daughter of the still-life painter Jacob Marrel. She was a talented artist, who was trained in flower painting by Marrel. From an early age, she was fascinated by insects and their life cycles, and undertook research into the phenomenon of metamorphosis, which was then only partially understood. She published her findings in a series of books, illustrated with beautifully-composed plates in which each insect life-cycle was illustrated on the appropriate food plant. In 1699, having encountered exotic insects in the cabinets of natural history collectors in Amsterdam, Merian and her younger daughter Dorothea set sail for Suriname, in South America, which was then a Dutch colony. There, they studied the life cycles of Surinamese insects until their return to Europe in 1701. Merian published her Surinamese research as the Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) in 1705. The book was very well-received, and by her death Merian was well-regarded throughout Europe as both an entomologist and an artist.


    Dr Richard Mead (1673–1754); his sale (London, Abraham Langford, 13–16 January 1755, lot 66), where purchased by an unknown collector; sold 15 June 1768 (London, Paterson and Eve, lot 572), where purchased by Sir John Hill via Wilson; George III by c.1810

  • Medium and techniques

    Watercolour and bodycolour with gum arabic over lightly etched lines on vellum


    29.8 x 40.2 cm (whole object)

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