The Shop Floor Project’s latest scarf collection takes inspiration from, and pays homage to, the extraordinary female ‘plant hunter’ Maria Sibylla Merian. The 17th century explorer and artist was a renowned naturalist, entomologist and botanical Illustrator.
Our beautiful, large cashmere and model wraps and fine silk squares feature cut-out silhouettes of tiny seed pods, giant leaves, vines, flowers and insects in a colour palette inspired by the dramatic watercolours of Merian.
Her story is a fascinating one, setting sail from Amsterdam with her daughter, across the Atlantic to Surinam in South America to study its native plant and insect life.
Merian grew up in large house, in a large artistic family in Frankfurt during the mid 1600’s. Her stepfather, the celebrated artist Jacob Merrill would teach his students the art of still life painting in Merian’s favourite room in the house - the painting studio. Here the young Maria would observe while she quietly cleaned brushes and prepared the paint. Seeing her potential, Jacob invited her to join the lessons, beginning with copying his own work of flowers and insects, flora and fauna.
In 1660, at the age of thirteen, Maria had become fascinated by insect life and began her study of butterfly metamorphosis - years before any accurate scientific description of the process was published. This led her to announce, age thirteen: “I set aside my social life. I devoted all my time to these observations of insects and to improve my abilities in the art of painting, so that I could both draw individual specimens and paint them as they were in nature. I collected all the insects I could find around Frankfurt and painted them very precisely on vellum.”
A life of painting and studying the natural world led Merian and her daughter to venture thousands of miles from their home in the Netherlands to the rainforests of South America seeking new and amazing insects to observe and illustrate. Here they collected, studied, and composed illustrations of the jungle’s plants, insects, and other animals.
On returning to Amsterdam Merian published the extraordinary Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (“The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname”). Arguably the most important work of her career, it included some 60 engravings illustrating the different stages of development that she had observed in Suriname’s insects. Similar to her caterpillar book, Metamorphosis depicted the insects on and around their host plants and included text describing each stage of development. The book was one of the first illustrated accounts of the natural history of Suriname.
Years after her death, Merian's accurate and beautiful illustrations were used by scientists, including Carl Linnaeus, to classify species, and today her prints and paintings are prized by museums around the world. More than a dozen species of plants and animals are named after Merian.