Maria Merian: The Butterfly Woman

by Mabel Alexander, age 12
Maria Merian: The Butterfly Woman Mabel Alexander lives in Los Angeles. When she's not in school, she is playing piano, writing, or doing art!

“Art and nature shall always be wrestling until they eventually conquer one another so that the victory is the same stroke and line: that which is conquered, conquers at the same time.” – Maria […]

“Art and nature shall always be wrestling until they eventually conquer one another so that the victory is the same stroke and line: that which is conquered, conquers at the same time.” – Maria Merian

“Where do the silk moths come from?” and “Where do the caterpillars go after they are in their pupae?” were questions that people had to ask themselves in the seventeenth century, because the answers to these hadn’t been discovered, yet. One woman answered those questions just by using her artwork, at a time when nobody thought women could do so.  Her name was Maria Merian, and she not only changed science, but she changed the way I want to be in the world.

Maria Merian was born in seventeenth century Germany and was fascinated with two things, bugs and art. Her father was a printer and publisher and her stepfather was an artist, so he helped her build her skills. Later on in her life, she made several books that changed the way people looked at science, such as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. She figured out these concepts at an early age. Imagine a young girl figuring out how the life cycle of a caterpillar works when nobody else knew about this! Of course, there were some theories, but they were very wrong. Some didn’t even include the butterflies or moths!

When you are very young, you learn about the life cycle of a caterpillar. Maria helped us figure that out. In many of  her paintings, she shows how the cycle begins with the eggs and it ends with a moth or a butterfly. According to the Atlantic, she would say things in her journal like, the pupae looks like a “date pit.” You would think that she would make these discoveries in her later life, but no! As a child, she figured them out. Maria kept the caterpillars she collected for her stepfather’s art. She kept the silkworm in a box and watched them grow and drew every little thing that she saw during the process. She did this all at a time when women couldn’t use certain papers, paints, or other important materials and on top of that, she could have been seen as a witch. Maria also left a marriage at a time when women weren’t to do that. But these stereotypes didn’t stop her.

In the seventeenth century, women weren’t allowed to leave a marriage. She rebelled against what was “proper.” I think that is amazing. She also came up with a good paint that women could actually use! I think it is unbelievable that women couldn’t use something as simple as a piece of paper, or glob of paint! Now we live in a world where anyone can do anything, but we still have a lot of work to do because some groups of people aren’t as equal as others. Back to Maria. First she gave some big questions some big answers, only as a child, and then she started to become more and more of a great female role model. That is incredible! 

That is very encouraging. It makes me feel like I can do anything even though I am not an adult! She must have had a lot of patience, for she waited and waited for these caterpillars to grow into beautiful little butterflies. Since there would be no photography until almost 200 years after, she couldn’t just take pictures of the bugs. Just imagine sitting and waiting for something to happen, and then having to draw an intricate drawing of it very quickly. She had to sit and draw every little detail! It makes me stop and think about how much we take our technology for granted.

I am very thankful for what she did. Even though not many people know much about her, she made a big difference in our world. I would like to be like her. Her life story inspires me to want to use my creativity to change the world. I hope to use my work to speak up about equal rights for everyone, because, like I said before, even if the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, some people are treated unfairly! Even in a time where there is advanced technology and brave activists, I feel like I can make a difference. Like Maria, I might not be recognized for the change that I am determined to make, but if I can do something, I will know that I have done good. 

I think that people should learn more about her because she is a great role model. If she can inspire one person, I think she could inspire the world!  Imagine living in a world where people use their talents and differences to make the world a better place. That would be great. We need more people like her! We can accomplish this by not letting stereotypes get into our heads and by always having our creative minds with us. We can also conduct our own projects and draw, write, or make music about them. Maria Merian inspires me to want to make a change and I hope others feel the same way!

Bibliography-

  • Sidman, Joyce. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
  • Wulf, Andrea. “The Woman Who Made Science Beautiful.” The Atlantic, 2 Aug. 2016. The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/01/the-woman-who-made-science-beautiful/424620/. Accessed 23 July 2020.
  • Campetella, Florencia. “The Butterfly Woman.” Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecolog. Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, www.mpg.de/12708225/maria-sibylla-merian. Accessed 23 July 2020.

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