Today’s Google doodle is about the German naturalist and artist, Maria Sibylla Merian. Here’s a drawing of a rose done by her.
She was born into an engraver’s family, helped support her family by giving drawing lessons to the daughters of wealthy families, married and had two daughters of her own, and continued to work. She left her husband when she was 38 and eventually divorced him. In 1692!
For a woman living in that time to pursue a career as an artist, even supporting herself by it, and to continue to do so while raising a family, is incredibly rare.
Later she traveled to Suriname in South America:
The pursuit of her work in Suriname was an unusual endeavour, especially for a woman. In general, men received royal or government funding to travel in the colonies to find new species of plants and animals, make collections and to work there, or to settle. Scientific expeditions at this period of time were not common, and Merian’s unofficial, self-funded expedition raised many eyebrows. She succeeded, however, in discovering a whole range of previously unknown animals and plants in the interior of Surinam. Merian spent time studying and classifying her findings and described them in great detail. Her classification of butterflies and moths is still relevant today.
She suffered a stroke in 1715 which made her unable to work, and died in 1717. Her scientific studies about metamorphosis were published posthumously by her daughter.
Here’s a good piece about Merian by the L.A. Times from 2008, though they accused her paintings of being less than “revolutionary”.
The mainstream media website Entertainment Weekly couldn’t resist getting in a dig at her: “She doesn’t look a day over 360!”
Would they have said this about a male artist? I don’t think so. Women are judged as decorative objects, even respected scientists who have been dead for more than 300 years. And women artists are still judged by their decorativeness today, though it has absolutely nothing to do with their art.