Today's leafy Google doodle celebrates what would have been the 366th birthday of Maria Sibylla Merian, a naturalist and scientific illustrator whose beautifully detailed drawings of butterfly metamorphosis were a key early contribution to entomology.
Merian was born in 1697 in Frankfurt in what is now Germany, the daughter of an engraver and the stepdaughter of a still-life painter. She was fascinated by caterpillars from childhood, collecting as many as she could find and documenting in pictures how they change into butterflies and moths. When she grew up she kept her own live specimens, illustrating each stage of their life cycle - egg, larva, pupa, adult - in her work.
For much of her life, she was perhaps best known for publishing books of botanical drawings. Although popular with a high-society readership, they were apparently largely ignored by the scientific establishment because they were not written in Latin.
But her careful observations led to new insights about insect reproduction and the relationship between caterpillars and the plants on which they feed and lay their eggs. Her simple observational approach might not sound remarkable by today's standards, but it was pioneering for the time.
As well as being a scientific innovator, Merian was an intrepid explorer. In 1699, she secured funding from the city of Amsterdam to mount a scientific expedition to Suriname ? fifty years before it was explored by "Linnaeus's Apostle", Daniel Rolander. Surrounded by the spectacular natural bounty of the South American forest, she gathered and drew even more butterfly and moth specimens, as well as other insects and many plants.
Merian's illustrations, alongside those of living artist Rosemarie Trockel, can be seen at the Serpentine Gallery in London until the end of this week.
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