1997 Merian Botanicals (Pane of 20)
- Pictured 300-year-old artwork by German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717)
Stamp Category: Definitive
Set: Merian Botanicals
Value: 32¢, First Class Mail Rate
First Day of Issue: March 3, 1997
First Day City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 2,024,000,000
Printed by: Printed for Stamp Venturers by J.W. Fergusson & Sons, Richmond, Virginia
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Pane of 20 plus 1 nonstamp label (vertical, arranged horizontally 7 across by 3 down)
Perforations: 10.8 x 10.3
Tagging: Phosphored Paper
Why the stamps were issued: To cover the 32¢ First Class Mail rate.
About the stamp designs: Picture botanical illustrations by German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717). One pictures a citron fruit with a moth in different stages of metamorphosis (larva, pupa, and adult) with a beetle lower on the plant. The other pictures a flowering pineapple.
First Day City: First Day of Issue Ceremony at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Appropriate given the stamp artist.
Early use: There was one instance of the Flowering Pineapple stamp being used on an envelope machine-postmarked in Providence, Rhode Island, on February 24th, an entire week before the First Day of Issue.
History the stamp represents: Naturalist and artist Maria Sibylla Merian was born on April 2, 1647, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. Merian spent her life studying insects and plants and capturing them in beautifully detailed paintings and drawings.
Merian’s father was an engraver and publisher, but he died when she was three. Her mother remarried artist Jacob Marrel in 1651 and he encouraged her to paint and draw. When she was 13, Merian did her first painting of plants and insects based on live specimens she collected. She was fascinated by caterpillars and collected all she could find so she could witness how they changed into beautiful butterflies and moths.
Merian married her stepfather’s apprentice, Johann Andreas Graff, in 1665, and they moved to Nuremberg in 1670. She continued to paint and design embroidery. She also gave drawing lessons to the daughters of wealthy families. This helped raise her social standing while also giving her access to some of the area’s finest gardens, where she could continue to collect and study insects.
While other female artists included insects in their paintings of flowers, few others bred or studied them like Merian did. She published her first book on insects in 1679, which focused on their metamorphosis. At the time, little was known about this process. Some people wrote about it, but most people believed they were “born of mud” – having been born spontaneously. Merian’s research refuted this and explored the life cycles of 186 different species of insects.
In the 1680s, Merian moved to Friesland, the Netherlands, for a time before settling in Amsterdam in 1691. She and her husband divorced in 1692 and she supported herself and her daughters by selling her flower paintings. After selling 255 of her own paintings, she raised enough money to travel to Suriname, where she planned to spend five years studying new species of insects.
Merian arrived in Suriname in September 1899. She traveled around the country, studying and drawing all the local plants and animals she could find. She also made several observations about the life and culture there. Merian condemned the colonial merchants use of slaves. They also mocked her for her course of study, and she thought it odd that they only wanted to plant and export sugar. Merian enjoyed exploring the agriculture there and illustrated some of the fruits and vegetables she found there, including pineapples.
Many years after her death, several insects, a spider, a snail, a lizard, a toad, and even a bird were named after Merian in honor of her contributions to naturalism.