DECE 8 - JANU 13, 2019

OPENING DECE 15 , 4 - 6 PM


In 1699 the naturalist and illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian funded her own expedition to the newly formed Dutch colony of Suriname.  During the two years she spent observing local vegetation and life cycles of its insects, Merian composed 60 watercolors. These studies would form the framework of her self-published book: Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. 


After returning to her home in Amsterdam, Merian relied on the assistance of her daughters Dorothea Maria Graff and Johanna Helena Herolt to compose and color these life-size images for publication. Always exacting and meticulous in her work, Merian worked closely with a select few engravers to oversee the etching of the copper plates for publication. Using these same plates, The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname was ultimately published in five editions.  


1705        published in both Dutch and Latin versions by Maria Sibylla Merian

1719        published in both Dutch and Latin versions by Johannes Oosterwijk

1726        published in side-by-side translations of Latin and French texts by Pierre Grosse

1730        published in Dutch by Jean Frederic Bernard

1771        published in side-by-side translations of Latin and French texts by L.C. Desnos


This work was widely admired and collected in the eighteenth century for its clarity in observing the developmental stages of insects and their reliance on specific plants of the New World.


Over the next century, criticism of Merian’s publication focused on its inaccuracies of identification.  Although Merian closely oversaw the production of the first edition, her death would leave control of subsequent editions to their respective publishers and of individual copies to amateurs.   


A year after her death in 1718, the rights to Merian’s estate was purchased by the publisher, Johannes Oosterwijk, who reissued the first edition of The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname with an additional 12 plates and facing texts.


The publication of the second edition was overseen by Merian’s daughter, Dorothea Graff. Ten of these newly printed images have been ultimately attributed to Merian’s drawings, presumably not included in the first edition due to financial constraints. (These images did not appear in her study journals from her two-year research trip in Suriname) The remaining two plates, plates 69 and 72, were purchased from Amsterdam collector, Albertus Seba. These are speculated to be produced from examples in his collection by Merian’s daughter, Johanna Herolt. The misattribution of this last plate (plate 72) is what serves as focal interest for this exhibition Tirl


Although The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname was published in both uncolored and colored versions for each of their editions, many of the plates were colorized after their release. These hand-painted plates are characterized by their loose interpretation of Merian’s careful studies.


As perhaps a way to uncomplicate the legacy of this publication, modern editions of this book are often facsimiles of the self-published 1705 edition, omitting the additional drawings and color variances found in subsequent editions.


Tirl is the second exhibition of Closed--Languages. Through a series of performances, we hope to entangle the viewer in the complex history of Merian’s posthumous publication of The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname. During the duration of the exhibition, an uncolored version of plate 72 will be colorized, relying closely on historical technique, known color choice and the agent’s personal preference where other insight fails.