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Tuesday 6 October 2020

Maria Sibylla Merian's engraving, “CXXIII: Euphorbia (Spurge), Caterpillar and Butterfly”, c1680

Maria Sibylla Merian (aka Maria Sibylla Graff) (1647–1717)

“Plate CXXIII: Euphorbia (Spurge), Caterpillar and Butterfly” (aka “Wolfsmelk Rupsen”; “Wolfsmilch, Raupe und Schmetterling"), 1679–1683, published in Amsterdam in 1730 by J F Bernard, as plate 123 (CXXIII) in Merian’s “De Europische Insecten” (aka “Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung, und sonderbare Blumennahrung” [The Wondrous Transformation of Caterpillars and their Strange Diet of Flowers]) as the illustration to the text description on page 63. offers an online view of the complete publication and publication details:

The following extract from this publication offers Merian’s insights about the caterpillar depicted—mindful that these comments are from the first woman artist-naturalist to study caterpillars and document her findings:

(Transl.) “Animal-like Caterpillars, when they are still small, are yellow and black, but getting bigger, they turn red; when one touches them, they hit their heads back and forth, as if they were in anger.” (Diergelyke Rupsen, wanneer ze nog klein zyn, zyn geel en swart, maar grooter wordende, worden ze rood; wanneer men ze aanraakt, zoo slaan ze met de kop heen en weer, als of ze toornig waaren.), p. 63.

Regarding the edition size, Florence F.J.M. Pieters & Diny Winthagen (1999) in “Maria Sibylla Merian, naturalist and artist (1647–1717): a commemoration on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of her birth” (“Archives of Natural History”, 26 [1]) advise:

“… her books were very rare, editions probably not exceeding 100 copies, and consequently very expensive for scientists — especially the coloured copies: the subscription prices of a coloured versus an uncoloured copy of her book on Surinam insects were 45 and 15 Dutch guilders” (p. 10). Note that “the pay of a Dutch ocean-going sailor came to 9 guilders a month during the entire seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (

Engraving on laid paper, with watercolour hand-colouring as published in 1730.

Size: (sheet) 24.2 x 15.1 cm; (plate) 15.8 x 12.6 cm.

Inscribed on plate: (upper right corner) “CXXIII.”

Condition: near faultless and well-preserved impression with no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, significant stains (but there is a faint dot in the left margin) or foxing. The hand-colouring executed at the time of publication is applied with skill and care.

I am selling this rare engraving by the first woman artist-naturalist to publish her findings that caterpillars—described in Merian’s day one of the "beasts of the devil"—were not "’born of mud’ by spontaneous generation” (see, but that they were a stage in the metamorphoses of the butterfly/moth, for the total cost of AU$313 (currently US$223.91/EUR189.94/GBP173.06 at the time of this listing) including Express Mail (EMS) postage and handling to anywhere in the world, but not (of course) any import duties/taxes imposed by some countries.

If you are interested in purchasing this lifetime impression of one of the first coloured botanical studies ever published—mindful that the colours were chosen for their accuracy and that the artist recorded the plants from which pigments could be derived at a time when the guild system disallowed women from painting in oils (see Wikipedia about this artist)—please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

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