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Von der Naturgeschichte zur Naturwissenschaft: Maria Sibylla Merian und die Frankfurter Naturalienkabinette des 18. Jahrhunderts

From natural history to natural science: Maria Sibylla Merian and early Frankfurt natural history collections Exhibition: 15 December 2003 - 31 December 2004


Kurt Wettengl

Museum press release

Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 Frankfurt – 1717 Amsterdam) was an important figure in the early development of entomology. She published her own natural history books and was also a dealer for her work (watercolors and books) as well as for camphorated animals (insects, retiles). Her customers were art lovers and collectors who had either „Universalsammlungen“ (universal collections) including objects of art, history, and of nature or specialized natural history collections in their living quarters. Such collections were owned by royalty and the wealthy from the Renaissance until the end of the 18th century.

In Frankfurt there were numerous collectors who owned objects of art and nature during the 17th and 18th centuries. Their „Privatcabinette“ (private collections) weren’t open to the public, yet visitation was permitted by scholars and scientists who had established personal contact with collectors. Such private collections belong to the prehistory of the Naturmuseum Senckenberg. Here exemplary listed scientists, artists, and publishers, like Maria Sibylla Merian and others in Frankfurt, were dedicated to the research and the presentation, as well as to spreading knowledge in natural history from the 16th until the 18th century.

Thirty-two citizens of Frankfurt, educated and committed to science, founded the Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft (Senckenberg Association of Research for Natural Scientists) in 1817 with the goal to start a scientifically organized collection and to exhibit in a public science museum. Four years later the Naturmuseum Senckenberg (Senckenberg Nature Museum) was constructed at the Eschenhiemer Turm. The institution open to the public made natural science education in Frankfurt possible.

The foundation for the museum’s collection consists of the natural history collections from the doctor, Johann Christian Senckenberg, and from other Frankfurt collectors. They donated their possessions knowing that their formerly private and small collections offered limited scientific insight. Some objects and documents have been preserved to this day and are here on display.


Frankfurt, Historisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt