Great Washington Museums: Dumbarton Oaks and Maria Sibylla Merian

Great Washington Museums Celebrate Great Women Artists is a NMWA-organized collaborative city-wide project highlighting works by women artists. During 2012, institutions throughout the Washington area are featuring an array of signature works by women artists that have enriched their distinguished collections. This landmark program, in conjunction with NMWA’s 25th anniversary celebration, continues NMWA’s dedication to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. This excerpt explores one of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection’s signature works by a woman artist, an illustration by Maria Sibylla Merian. Visit www.nmwa.org and download the pdf map to begin your journey!

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 20, Arbre de Gomme gutte (Gummi Guttae Tree with White Witch, Cocoon, and Caterpillar of Hawk Moth and Drops of Resin), from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1719; Hand-colored etching, 19 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.; © Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Rare Book Collection, Washington, D.C.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 20, Arbre de Gomme gutte (Gummi Guttae Tree with White Witch, Cocoon, and Caterpillar of Hawk Moth and Drops of Resin), from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, 1719; Hand-colored etching, 19 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.; © Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Rare Book Collection, Washington, D.C.

The exquisitely detailed plates of Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium depict the flora and fauna of Suriname, with a particular emphasis on the process of metamorphosis. Merian (1647–1717) sailed from Amsterdam to Suriname in 1699 and remained there until 1701, studying and drawing plants and insects that had not previously been seen or described in Europe. This book impacted European perceptions of the tropical New World, the life cycles of insects, and the manner in which illustrations could indicate natural context. On display January 2012-December 2012 in the Rare Book Exhibit Gallery outside the Rare Book Collection, in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1703 32nd St. NW; www.doaks.org