Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 7, 2008

Maria Merian: Art and Science

Waking now to L.A. traffic instead of Maine waves. My daughter put together her half of a room with pictures of her friends taped or framed everywhere, and even one of me among them. She’s been organizing and hanging out with one lovely suite-mate, wondering, but trying not to obsess, about the two young women who aren’t yet around. While Em and her new friend explored Hollywood a bit, took pictures of each other wearing matching L.A. T-shirts, and picked up job applications, I visited the Getty Museum

You get to take a tram up the hillside for great city views and once there wind your way among several buildings that always take you back outside to views and fountains and gardens. I think because so much can happen outdoors, and because the museum is free, except for parking, I saw more children then I usually do in a museum, and that was fun. All seemed well-behaved. Perhaps less so were the twenty-somethings who struck poses mimicking those in some seventeenth century paintings and snapped pictures, as if they were in the wax museum or a theme park, under the guards’ leery gazes.

I enjoyed seeing the chair where Marie Antoinette once sat, on loan from the Louvre, but what was mosta exciting is a special exhibit called Women of Art and Science: Maria Merian and Daughters who I wrote about in Girls Who Looked Under Rocks, (which I was glad to see for sale in the children’s store, and glad Dawn Publications has kept it in print for nine years). In the late 1600s, Merian’s paintings showed the links between eggs, caterpillars and butterflies. It’s said that at thirteen, Maria observed metamorphoses that weren’t written about in science journals for another ten years. Besides paintings on display, were thick old books used as field guides, written and illustrated by her and other naturalists. The copy of Merian’s The Caterpillar Book was taken on an expedition to Siberia in 1720 in service to Czar Peter the Great, and the naturalist tucked sample butterflies in folded paper left in the volume now on display.

Going back to the recent themes of dads and daughters, I have to note that while Maria’s mother discouraged her interest in nature and art, her stepfather, a painter, gave her art supplies and advice, though at that time it was against the law in Nuremberg for women to paint. Later, Maria got around this by calling her works guides for embroidery – then she moved. Including one great journey to South America to paint blue Morpho butterflies and other marvels.



  1. I love the Getty … maybe even more for the outside spaces than the inside.

  2. I agree and spent more time outdoors than in. When I first got there, I thought, I am so going to get lost, and I did, but that was part of the point. You get lost but dazzled.

  3. What good fortune that exhibit is up at the same time you’re in LA. (and extra fabulous that your book is in the gift shop). Thanks for the interesting insights into Maria, too.

  4. How wonderful to see your book here. We did the Getty a few years ago–my husband and brother-in-law just couldn’t get over the buildings–all that stone! You should try the Huntington, too, while you’re there.

  5. Thanks, Linda. Yeah, it’s not as if it I would have flown across the country just to see it, and it doesn’t seem on tour, but it is great seeing these wonderful women get the recognition they deserve. I’d seen paintings and pictures of those books, but to see the actual old books, with the gilding on the edges of the pages — even under plexiglass — was thrilling! And really nicely written notes around. Almost as cool as the Pacific!

  6. Yeah, I’m no architecture student, but even to me it was apparent how well designed everything was to offer all possible vistas. The girls just left me to work on resumes so I might get to the Huntington when I finish my berry iced tea at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf! It is so cool to enjoy yourself on your way in and out and around a museum instead of beating past weather to the door then staying inside!

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