The History and Influence of Maria Sibylla Merian's Bird-Eating Tarantula: Circulating Images and the Production of Natural Knowledge
Chapter Summary: A 2009 exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum on the confluence of science and the visual arts included a plate from a nineteenth-century encyclopedia owned by Charles Darwin showing a tarantula poised over a dead bird (figure 3.1).1 The genesis of this startling scene was a work by Maria Sibylla Merian (German, 1647–1717), and the history of this image says much about how knowledge of the New World was obtained, and how it was transmitted to the studies and private libraries of Europe, and from there into popular works like Darwin’s encyclopedia. It is unlikely that Merian ever imagined the future longevity and influence of her images and text, but her visual records, like those of other naturalist/artists, were employed by Buffon, Linnaeus, and others in their efforts to understand and order plants and animals from around the world. [excerpt]
Book Summary: This volume offers fresh perspectives on key elements of science in societies throughout Spanish America, Europe, West Africa, India, and Asia as they overlapped increasingly during the Age of Revolutions—an era of rapidly expanding scientific investigation—as well as the role of scientific change and development in tightening global and imperial connections.
Etheridge, K. "The History and Influence of Maria Sibylla Merian’s Bird-Eating Tarantula: Circulating Images and the Production of Natural Knowledge." Global Scientific Practice in the Age of Revolutions, 1750 – 1850. P. Manning and D. Rood, eds. (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press. 2016). 54-70.
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