From a time when women were housekeepers and wives came Maria Sibylla Merian. The daughter of a talented artist she would become one of the world’s first entomologists through her observation, study, and documentation.
Title: Maria Sibylla Merian
Authors: Sarah B. Pomeroy and Jeyaraney Kathirithamby
ISBN: 9781947440012 Language: English
Themes: art development, art history, entomology
What’s it about?
This book is a detailed biography of Maria and in part her family as well. Maria, the daughter and step-daughter, of two talented artists grew up surrounded by art. From an early age Maria learnt how to mix paints, prepare canvases, and eventually developed her own artistic style. Originally basing her artworks on her step-father’s still life paintings she began observing insects in detail and documenting not only their appearance but also their life-cycles. Throughout her life, including marriage and children, Maria continued to explore and expand upon the world’s knowledge of insects through her study becoming one of the world’s first entomologists.
The book itself follows Maria in a chronological order and includes big picture details before elaborating more. There is a lot of detail in this book about the processes that Maria learnt as a child – it just doesn’t say “she learnt how to mix paints” – it goes into detail about how the paints were mixed at the time giving an insight into the work that went into creating a piece of art. The other element of this book is the combination of engravings and illustrations (by Maria, her family, and other artists of the time) in order to show details that are described.
While there are illustrations galore this is text heavy.
I had never heard of Maria before seeing this book. It is quite apparent as you read through this book just how exceptional she was for her time in many different ways. She was clearly very dedicated to becoming an artist in her own right, a scientist and entomologist. This is a book that would work in a classroom looking at a variety of topics including women in history, scientists, evolution of scientific processes, observation and documentation in science,
For use in the art classroom this book provides examples of how Maria’s own style developed from first studying how her step-father painted to her own style of details and insects. This book would be particularly useful in showing students how the smallest detail in an illustration can determine if it is art or a diagram. It would be interesting to observe students working to document native insects in their own environment as well – thus providing a cross-curricular study with science.
In science the observation, documentation and comparison of life-cycles would be particularly interesting and why I tagged a couple of lower grades. Too often the only life-cycles that get taught are the basic: butterfly, ant, and bee. Maria’s detail and composition therefore might be a good hook to get students looking at not just other insects but specific species. After all, not all life-cycles of insects are the same and we need to be teaching specifics and not just generic examples.
Overall this is a beautiful and educational book. A good book makes you stop and think – a great book gives you in curiosity and incentive to learn more and this books is definitely the latter.