CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Maria Sibylla Merian and the Tradition of Flower Depiction

Exhibition: 11 October 2017 - 14 January 2018

Born and raised in Frankfurt, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) is one of Frankfurt’s most famous daughters. 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of her death. To mark the occasion, the Städel Museum, in cooperation with the Kupferstichkabinett of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, will present an exhibition devoted to flower illustration in drawings and prints from the 15th to the 18th century. At its centre is the extraordinary figure of Maria Sibylla Merian: a copperplate engraver, a painter of flowers and insects, a naturalist, and an explorer. Educated in the tradition of ‘florilegia’ (flower books) and tulip books, Merian became a naturalist, first investigating the metamorphosis of caterpillars and butterflies, later the symbiosis of insects and plants. She published the results of her research in illustrated books containing copperplates and etchings, as well as body-colour drawings of the highest artistic quality.

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), Bushrose with Leaf Miner, 1679
Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main


The central works of this exceptional artist will be shown in the context of flower representations by her predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. In the 18th century, gardens and valuable plants, above all tulips, were valuable goods. ‘Florilegia’ from the time communicate their particular importance: the images were produced as splendidly colourful drawings on vellum, or as large-scale hand-coloured copperplate engravings, produced in exclusive small editions, such as the famous Hortus Eystettensis by Basilius Besler. The exhibition also includes ornamental engravings with floral motifs, for example by Martin Schongauer, apothecary books from the 15th and 16th century, plant studies from the circle of Albrecht Dürer, and nature studies by Georg Flegel and Georg Hoefnagel from around 1600. Also included are a group of flower drawings by Bartholomäus Braun, who – like Maria Sibylla Merian – worked in

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